Spooky Species of the day for Halloween

30 October 2010

To get you in a spooky mood for Halloween this weekend, the Natural History Museum's Species of the day has a moth and a spider that will send shivers down your spine.

Death’s-head hawkmoth
The death's-head hawkmoth has a skull-shaped markings and unusual hopping and shrugging behaviour.

The death's-head hawkmoth has a skull-shaped markings and unusual hopping and shrugging behaviour.

Today’s Species of the day is the death’s-head hawkmoth, Acherontia atropos. This insect is thought of as an evil omen in some parts of the world and Museum insect expert Ian Kitching explains why in the short video above. 

The death’s-head hawkmoth has skull-shaped markings, cloak-like wings and when disturbed it hops up and down and shrugs its wings making a high-pitched squeaking sound! The moth was even used on the poster for the film Silence of the Lambs. 

There are about 1,400 species of hawkmoths in the world and they are the only moths able to hover in front of flowers to feed, like hummingbirds do.

Goliath bird-eating spider
The Goliath bird-eating spider rarely eats birds but certainly is goliath in size.

The Goliath bird-eating spider rarely eats birds but certainly is goliath in size. © George Beccaloni

Tomorrow’s Species of the day was the scarily named goliath bird-eating spider, Theraphosa blondi. It certainly is a goliath as it is the world’s heaviest spider. However, it rarely eats birds, preferring instead crickets, beetles, small mammals, frogs and reptiles. 

To warn off predators these spiders can make a hissing noise by rubbing together the bristles on their first 2 pairs of legs and pedipalps (front appendages).

The UK has about 700 native spider species, but the goliath bird-eating spider is not one of them! It is found in the mountain rainforests of countries such as Venezuela and Guyana.

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