Can anyone identify this … thing … ?

Updated 18 August: So, it’s a death’s head hawkmoth pupa. Many thanks to SusieB, and two Nigels, and Chris who identified it. Chris in fact says it’s a chrysalis. I.e. the stage between caterpillar and large moth. He adds that as they grow from egg to larva they form a pupa from which they emerge some time later as the adult winged insect. They undergo metamorphosis inside the pupa. When it is a moth the pupa is called a chrysalis and the larva is called a caterpillar. When it is a fly the lava is a maggot and other insects it might be called a grub. 

Some years ago we had a swarm of bees take up residence in an outer wall. I have never seen the like of a swarm before, it is quite frightening. But that’s by the bye. The point is that while they were still present we had a death’s head hawkmoth in the bedroom. Absolutely huge thing. At one point it sounded like a carrier bag being rustled right behind my head and then it was climbing up the side of the bed, on the blanket! My husband caught it and put it in a jar, took it way up the hill and let it go. It was back before him! We were later advised that they have some kind of symbiotic relationship with bees, apparently they smell like bees, at least to bees, and so they’re accepted in a group of them as just another bee. And then they get to eat the honey, I suppose! 

Thank you all. Sadly this one won’t ever be a death’s head hawkmoth. It became a lizard’s dinner yesterday. Several lizards in fact …

Updated 10pm, 17/8: Asked for comments and now realise comments were off. Sorry! This software update is maddening because to switch after all these years from automatically on to automatically off means I never remember with a new post! 

Original post 17 August: Does anyone know what this is? My husband just found it in the soil of a plant he was repotting. There’s a photo below too taken with a tealight for scale. The thing has now been seized by a large lizard who’s eating it, wriggling all the while (the thing, not the lizard … well actually lizard too!). Talk about nature being red in tooth and claw, ugh …

It can’t be a death’s head hawkmoth, can it? They’re green and yellow things, but it’s that sort of size. Or is this a different stage of the lava … chrysalis … grub … ?? I confess to being entomologically challenged …  


  1. Hi, I enjoy your site and follow it every day. However I was dismayed at the article on the Death Head Moth. We were privileged to have some in our garden last year. They are beautiful. When the have fed enough they drop off the plant and bury in the soil to develop which is what you found, but why let a lizard eat it? That is not nature it should have been put back in the soil to live.

    1. Author

      We couldn’t actually stop the lizard … it was attracted by the wriggling and before we could react it had run off with the thing. And actually, it is entirely natural for lizards to do that, I have lived with them for 16 years now and know the species well.

  2. I’ve had 2 of the bright green caterpillars eating my potato plants in the last 2 weeks. They do burrow underground to transform which is why your husband found it in the soil. And yes they do eat the honey from the hives having gained entry by smelling like a bee. The moths and the caterpillars both make a kind of clicking noise when upset. Which is how I found the second one!

  3. Apologies, I can’t see how to comment directly on that post but (with help from my husband) the “Thing” in your plant pot seems indeed to be the pupa of a Death’s Head Hawk Moth, plenty of pictures online if you search for “hawk moth pupa”.

    1. Author

      It was my fault! The latest software update changed a long-standing setting from a comments allowed default to a comments deactivated default. I now have to tick a box to allow comments each time I post and I am still trying to get it ingrained!

      Thank you too for your identification! It does match two other readers’ opinions so I’ll update the post tomorrow and add the information. Thank you very much!

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