40 Fascinating, Charismatic & Haunting Skull Moths

Large & distinguishable by a human skull-like marking on its thorax; the Death’s-head Hawkmoth has been deemed the bad boy of the moth world

Thought to be a harbinger of war, pestilence, and death to man and beast alike, this harmless moth has haunted our literature, art and folklore for generations. Except as a minor pest to crops and to beehives, the Death’s-head Hawkmoth is perfectly harmless. The name Death's-head Hawkmoth refers to any one of the three moth species of the genus Acherontia (Acherontia atropos, Acherontia styx and Acherontia lachesis). All three species are fairly similar in size, coloration, and life cycle. It is one of the largest moths seen in Europe. At adulthood, their wingspan measures five inches across. They are fuzzy, heavily built moths, with downy wings. Their outer wings are black with contrasting yellow undersides. The most striking thing about these stunning moths is the death’s head pattern seen on their backs. Some specimens will lack this marking, but that is not the norm. All three species have the ability to emit a loud squeak if irritated. The sound is produced by expelling air from the pharynx, often accompanied by flashing of the brightly colored abdomen in a further attempt to deter predators.
Adding to its sinister reputation, its name: atropos, styx and lachesis are all death-related. Atropos refers to the member of the Moirae who cuts the threads of life of all beings in Greek mythology; styx refers to the river of the dead, also in Greek mythology; and lachesis refers to the Moira who allots the correct amount of life to a being. In addition the genus name Acherontia is derived from Acheron, a river in Greece that was believed in Greek Mythology to be a branch of the river Styx that formed the boundary between Earth and the Underworld (the domain often called Hades, which is also the name of its ruler).

They are commonly observed raiding beehives of different species of honey bee for honey. They can move about in hives without being disturbed because they mimic the scent of the bees. Some research has indicated that they mimic the cutaneous fatty acids of the bee, making them chemically invisible to them. When in the hive the moth emanates a squeaking sound that apparently has a calming effect on the bees and so it is not attacked. These striking moths are seen feeding on potato plant leaves, honey or privet, depending on where they are in their lifecycles. Adults tend to prefer honey, sap and nectar, while larvae feast on the leaves of the potato plant and other plants. In the wild, they are most often seen in sunny, dry locations resting on walls, leaves or even on the ground. They are mostly active in the evening, from dusk until midnight. The Death’s Head Moth originates in Africa, but it is common in Europe because of its migration patterns. This nomad moth migrates frequently. It is seen in Europe from July until October and then it lives in Africa during the winter. They are sometimes seen as far north as Scandinavia.

BAD RAP...BAD REP:  Throughout Europe, the Death's Head was thought to be an omen of death. In France, dust from its wings was thought to cause blindness if it entered the eye. The moth brought fear and panic in Brittany when large numbers appeared at the time of a widespread pestilence. The moth's unusual features are markedly enhanced by the sounds it makes: these have been described as a 'dismal, melancholy cry' and like the 'plaintive squeaking of a mouse'. In Poland, where it is known as the 'wandering death-bird', its cry was heard as a voice of anguish, the moaning of a grief-stricken child. in South Africa at least, uninformed people have claimed that the moth has a poisonous, often fatal, sting (possibly referring mainly to the proboscis, but sometimes to the horn on the posterior of the larva. There are numerous superstitions to the effect that the moth brings bad luck to the house into which it flies, and that death or grave misfortune may be expected to follow.  The skull moth was even rumoured to be a tormentor of the notoriously unstable King George III who was thrown into one of his infamous bouts of ‘madness’ when two large moths were discovered in his bedroom in his residence in Kew, London in 1801—many believing that the moths had been placed there by people trying to further damage the mental health of the King and destabilise his reign.

In tattoo society, these menacing creatures have influenced many a tattoo artist for years—from the classic-traditional to neo-traditional to completely original works of art and design.

Enjoy these beautiful interpretations of skull moths:

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⇑  1- By Elliott John Wells

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Recent from Tattoo Ideas

⇑  2- By Aleksandra Katsan (watercolor)

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⇑  3- By Adam Hays

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⇑  4- By Mike Nomy

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⇑  5- By Jackie Rabbit

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  6- By Maxyne Tattooing, La Maison des Taneurs, Paris

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⇑   7- By Mike Gutowski

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⇑   8- By Evgeny Shevchenko (notice hidden skull pattern in wings)

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⇑   9- By Steve Wade, AllSeeingEyeTattooLounge

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⇑   10- By Jedidia, ElementTattoo TX USA

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⇑   11- By Jeff Gogue Tattoos

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⇑   12- By Jeff Gogue Tattoos

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  13- By Liam Sparkes - ink blot

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⇑   14- By Mathew Clarke, NH, USA

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⇑   15- By Matthew Chahal, UK

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⇑   16- By Shaun Topper, DaVinci Tattoo, NY, USA

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⇑   17- By Aaron (guest artist) TimelessTattoo GLASGOW

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⇑   18- By Alex Sherker, OffTheMapTattoo Mass, USA

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⇑   19- By Mogliano Veneto Treviso DapSkingdom

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⇑  20- By Jason Walstrom, Minnesota, USA

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⇑  21- By Philip Yarnell, SkynYardTattoos

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⇑   22- By Richard Andrews

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⇑    23- Found on Pinterest - if anyone knows the artist, please post a comment

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⇑    24- Found on Pinterest - if anyone knows the artist, please post a comment

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⇑    25- Found on Pinterest (fade to black) - if anyone knows the artist, please post

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⇑     26- By Pure Vision Tattoo

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⇑     27- AaronKing - Illustrator

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⇑     28- Todd Bailey - neo-traditional

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⇑    29- By David Rudzinksi (Moth in a lightbulb tattoo)

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⇑    30- By William Jone, nebulatattoo (chest piece)

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⇑    31- By Miles Kanne

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⇑  32- By Drew Shallis

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⇑  33-  If anyone knows the artist, please post a comment

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⇑  34- By Mark Lonsdale Tattoo, Bondi, Sydney

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⇑  35- By Phillip Gallagher, Irishbuddha, DE, USA

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⇑  36-By Lipa Andrzej

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⇑  37- By Dan Smith

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⇑  38- Found on Tattoostime.com - if anyone knows the artist, please post

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⇑  39- Found on Tattoostime.com - if anyone knows the artist, please post

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⇑  40-By Maxyne Tattooing, La Maison des Taneurs, Paris

nadinebadalaty

@NadineBadalaty

Inked Artist, Graphic Designer, Senior Designer HarperCollins Publishers that toggles between NYC and NJ on a daily basis. Creator DAZZLELETS bracelets; Love to draw portraits, write, create... and take care of my dogs.

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