A. atropos overwintering as adult?

  • Hi all,

    This past weekend, 19 adult Acherontia atropos were reported to be found in a wood stove in the Netherlands.
    While I usually doubt such strange/bold reports to be true, this one included a curious description and a picture of 4 dead A. atropos covered in ashes.

    The report describes odd noises coming from the stove after lighting it. After opening the stove door, multiple adult A. atropos came falling down. The founder put out the fire and brought 15 moths that were still alive outside. Four dead ones remained.

    This report made me wonder if anyone else knows if A. atropos is able to overwinter in it's adult stage in such large numbers? As far as I know, they mainly (attempt to) overwinter as a pupa here in the northern region of its' range.
    I know that Macroglossum stellatarum, another migratory Sphingidae, is able to hibernate in caves and such. But in literature I've never read about this phenomenon occuring with A. atropos.
    So is this just a false report or do you think it might be true?

    Kind regards,

  • https://insektenlifestyle.com
  • I would say that this is quite possible. at least it wouldn't surprise me, though the large number of individuals supposedly found is very impressive. In my region (close to Frankfurt) there are occasional reports of dead A. atropos in the middle of winter. One I remember was found under a drystone wall in a garden in December or January. To me, it seems like they continue their usual lifecycle which doesn't include a diapause and whatever stage their in when winter approaches is what is confronted with it. Maybe it's mainly pupae and adults, but it could also be caterpillars and eggs. Of course they are not going to survive very long, whereas the pupae and adults could make it until the first frost hits (maybe even make it through winter occasionally, who knows?). For migrating butterflies and moths it is not unusual that they don't match their generations to the seasons very well, which makes sense because they just are not adapted to it. I observed some females of Colias croceus laying eggs here in October. The ones I collected yielded adults in late December. Outside they definitely had no chance of survival. It is also reported that Vanessa atalanta which usually is known to overwinter in adult stage is also able to do so as larvae.

    Greetings Dennis

  • Hi Silvio,

    those who deal with insects in the long term learns to use the sentence "this is impossible" as rarely as possible.
    The animals amaze us again and again with their possibilities and their survival strategies.
    However, there are situations where a "that seems impossible to me" is appropriate. ^^
    And that's the case with this newspaper report that you're telling here. ;)


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