Deaths-head Hawk-moth - Peter Maton

The UK’s scariest moth caused pandemonium in a suburban street after appearing unexpectedly in a back garden, just days before Halloween. 

The arrival of the Death’s-head Hawk-moth, which is traditionally seen as an omen of death, ties in with wider moth immigration that is currently taking place across parts of the UK, as warm winds from the south bring in rare species from the continent. 

The extremely rare Death’s-head Hawk-moth boasts a skull-like marking on its head and featured in 1990s horror blockbuster The Silence of the Lambs. 

The appearance of the moth terrified the neighbours of council worker Stuart Clarke when the bat-sized insect dropped into his garden in Christchurch, Dorset, earlier this week. 

Death’s-head Hawk-moth

The 55-year-old Conservation and Countryside Manager for Bournemouth Borough Council said: “This really is the ultimate find – it’s like the Holy Grail of moths. My neighbour was too scared to look at it but it was an impressive beast, about as big as a mouse with wings the size of a small bat.

Few people appreciate moths, but they really are the most amazing, diverse creatures and finding a Death’s-head Hawk-moth so near to Halloween is definitely one of those once-in-a-lifetime events.

Normally found in Africa and the Middle East, Death’s-head Hawk-moths occasionally appear in the UK during autumn when warm winds from the continent push the insects north. 

But despite the scarcity of these appearances, the moth has haunted British literature, art and folklore for centuries. 

The Death’s-head Hawk-moth appears as a prophecy of doom in writer Thomas Hardy’s The Return of the Native and an ill-advised love token in William Holman Hunt’s 1851 painting The Hireling Shepherd.

The moth was even rumoured to be a tormentor of King George III, who in 1801 was thrown into one of his infamous bouts of ‘madness’ when two large Death’s-head Hawk-moths were discovered in his London bedchambers.

More recently a stylised version of the moth featured on promotional posters advertising 1991 horror film The Silence of the Lambs. 

Butterfly Conservation moth expert Tony Davis, said: “We’ve experienced a recent spell of warm weather, with strong winds from the continent depositing these rare migrant moths on our coastline. 

October and November are typical months we’d expect to see this happen, but the proximity of this Death’s-head Hawk-moth sighting to Halloween is certainly a spooky coincidence.

The warm winds from the continent have deposited a handful of other rare moths across the UK over the last few weeks. 

A very rare and dramatically patterned Oleander Hawk-moth appeared at Durlston Country Park, Dorset earlier this week. The beautiful, palm-sized moth is unmistakable with its swirl of cream, pink and green markings.

Elsewhere, parts of the south west have seen the arrival of other rare continental species such as the Vestal, Olive-tree Pearl and Rusty-dot Pearl. A Tunbridge Wells Gem was seen in Puddletown, Dorset, – only the 20th record for the UK.

On the east coast, a Crimson Speckled moth appeared at Holkham in Norfolk – the first sighting of the species for the county. The Mediterranean species boasts striking red, black and white markings which make it one of the most beautiful moths to reach UK shores.