This interesting visitor came to one of our beehives in early September 2006, one of two live specimens seen in that year.
It is a Death's Head Hawk Moth (Acherontia atropos), regularly recorded as a late summer visitor from southern Europe.
Meeting this creature is quite an experience! To start with, its size is impressive.
The skull marking on the thorax seems inexplicable until the moth is seen at rest on a tree where it virtually disappears against lichen covered bark.
When disturbed the wings spread to show a startling yellow striped abdomen and hind wings. As if this is not enough it makes a loud repetitive squeak, very unexpected from a moth!
We were lucky to find this moth before it entered the hive.
The Death's Head Hawk Moth caterpillar feeds on the leaves of potato or nightshade plants but the adult moth is a kleptoparasite of honey bees, making a living as a honey thief.
It's habit of entering a beehive to steal honey together with it's yellow and black striped appearance gives it it's alternative and less sinister common name of Bee Tiger.
It doesn't hurt the bees and does not steal enough honey to do any harm so we are only thrilled to see them.
The bees do not like thieving intruders in the hive so the bees will often kill them. The bees have chewed and bitten away all the coloured scales and hairs that once covered the dead moth photographed in late July 2008. Further sighting of a specimen nearly dead in a beehive in 2014.