Acherontia atropos is the most widely-known of the three species of Death's-head Hawkmoth. Found throughout the Middle East and the Mediterranean region, and increasingly as far north as southern Great Britain due to recently mild British winters, this moth is easily distinguishable from others in this region by a vaguely skull-shaped pattern on its back. A. atropos is also very large, with a wingspan of 90-130 mm (three to five inches), being the largest moth in some of the regions in which it is found. The adult has the typical streamlined wings and body of Sphingidae. The upper wings are brown with slight yellow wavy lines; the lower wings are yellow with some wide brown waves. It rests during the day on trees or in the litter, holding the wings like a tent over the body.
The moth also has numerous other unusual features. It has the ability to emit a loud squeak if irritated. The sound is produced by expelling air from its proboscis. It often accompanies this sound with flashing its brightly marked abdomen in a further attempt to deter its predators. It is commonly observed raiding beehives for honey at night. Unlike the other species of Acherontia, it only attacks colonies of the well-known Western honey bee, Apis mellifera. It is attacked by guard bees at the entrance, but the thick cuticle and resistance to venom allow it to enter the hive. It is able to move about in hives unmolested because it mimics the scent of the bees.
It has been featured in art (notably in The Hireling Shepherd), Bram Stoker's "Dracula" and in movies, notably in Un chien andalou and The Silence of the Lambs. In the latter the moth is used as a calling card by the serial killer "Buffalo Bill". In The Mothman Prophecies this moth is referenced to on more than a few occasions. It also appears in the music video to Massive Attack's single, "Butterfly Caught."
The moth is also mentioned as symbol of death in John Keats's Ode to Melancholy, "Make not your rosary of yew-berries, / Nor let the beetle, nor the death-moth be / Your mournful Psyche". Full Text