Just What Is Hannibal Lecter’s Link With Moths?

Deaths-head Hawk-moth

Early 1990s horror film – The Silence Of The Lambs, based on the novel by Thomas Harris, introduced the world to the terrifying character of cannibal Hannibal Lecter – played chillingly by Sir Anthony Hopkins. But another star performer lurked at the dark heart of this blockbuster - a moth which featured on the film’s promotional posters and in the movie itself.

Mystery abounds as to the exact identity of the moth. Butterfly Conservation super sleuth Les Hill took up the case and his investigations revealed an unexpected world of moths, Salvador Dali, sugary treats and flexible glue.

Silence of The Lambs dvd cover“The species featured on the film’s famous poster appears on first glance to be a Death’s Head Hawk-moth Acherontia atropos - the main identification clue being the white discal spot. In Archerontia styx, (one of three species of Death’s Head), which it is widely accepted is the featured species in the film, the discal spot is orange. The skull-like marking is also darker in A. styx; but, this feature is obscured by superimposing a copy of a photograph entitled In Voluptas Mors by Philippe Halsman; the original photo features surrealist artist Salvador Dalí with seven women posing to make a skull, itself inspired by a Dalí drawing - Human Skull Consisting of Seven Naked Women's Bodies.

In Harris’ novel, a moth pupa left by the killer Buffalo Bill as a grisly calling card at a murder scene is identified as a Black Witch Erebus odora. But in the film, the pupa is instead identified as A. styx. The pupae used in the film are of the species Manduca sexta (Tobacco Horn Worm) although the very first 'pupal case' is actually made from a combination of Tootsie Rolls and Gummy Bear sweets, so it would be edible if swallowed (www.IMDb.com).  But, A. styx is referred to in the book (as is A. atropos) along with Caligo beltrao (Purple Owl) during Agent Starling's visit to the Insect Zoo in the latter stages of the book.

The Death's-head Hawk-moths first brought in for filming proved to be Hollywood divas – they became too cold and couldn’t be used. Lookalike adult moths (M. sexta) were obtained and put in costume made of painted fake nails cut into shapes and glued on.

Unfortunately, the moths couldn't fly because the glue was too stiff. Eventually, a flexible glue was found. The moths were also attached to sticks with special string so they could be controlled and to make it look like the moths were flying (www.pajiba.com)."