ACHERONTIA ATROPOS (Death's-head Hawk).
(by Neil West). Part 1. Emergence and Pairing.
Although time-consuming, A.atropos is an easy species to rear. Temperature and humidity I believe to be important, and I rigidly stick to 26-28 degrees C and 90% respectively. Under these conditions, ova will hatch in 4 days, pupae take about 3 weeks, larvae go down after 14 days and pupate after another 4. As an incubator I use a metal cupboard, with a large hole covered with clear perspex, at one end. Fitted with a couple of thermostatically controlled soil heating cables and covered outside with 50mm thick polystyrene, it stays on all year round, set at 26 degrees C. The cupboard holds 2 cages, one 18" wide by 14" deep by 24" high (457 x 355 x 610mm) for pairing/laying and the other 12" x 14" x 24" (300 x 355 x 610mm) for emerging. About 15 adults can be accommodated comfortably. I lay the pupae on layers of tissue in a shallow tray and maintain humidity by copious spraying daily over all of the inside of the cupboard, including the pupae. A thick layer of newspaper in the large cage is soaked every 2 or 3 days. From healthy pupae, moths always emerge properly, but the slightest deformity can, but not always, result in deformed adults. Moths emerge 3 hours before dusk with amazing punctuality. Death's-head Hawks cannot wait to pair! They begin at dusk with such fervour that their squeaking can be heard many yards away. In the up and down position, or side by side on the netting, face to face, rolling about on the floor of the cage like the ladybirds in the beer advert, a great "tennis-ball" of bodies jumbled in a corner, females dragging males around. 10 minutes, 2 hours, overnight, - the combination of time and position seems infinite. Occasionally, they pair in the more usual 'hawk fashion' i.e: with the female hanging from the roof netting and the male suspended beneath her. If I spot this, I remove them [they won't separate] as any free males will cling to the pair, and as more join them, the whole assembly crashes to the floor, tearing off the female's tarsal claws. She, subsequently, will not lay.
Part 2. Feeding & Laying.
On the third day after emergence, I begin feeding the adults with a 50% honey/water mixture. Any time of the day will do, but not near dusk or they will fly. At the first feed, they struggle violently and rarely take any honey, but after 2 or 3 feeds they become easy to handle. By holding the moth at the wing roots with the thumb and second finger, the first finger is left free to hold down the head, which makes locating and extracting the proboscis much easier. For this I use a small, pointed plastic stick (not a pin). The tongue is then dipped in the honey solution, and held until the moth starts to feed, signified by the movement of the proboscis tip and waving of the antennae. The moth can then be slowly released, when it will continue to feed for up to 5 minutes. I've made half a dozen feeding trays by sticking shallow tops from plastic boxes (about 75mm x 50mm x 6mm) on to 150mm squares of thin plywood. This avoids them being tipped over by the moths, and by working a rota-system, quite a large number of moths can be fed in a relatively short time. I feed every two days and later, when they are laying, every three days. If moths are pairing [especially in the 'end to end' mode] at feeding time, they can still be fed without them separating, but feed the male first as the stronger female will drag he male away when she has finished. After about 10 days, I remove the males to a cage in a cool position and continue to feed them. Being less active, they will remain alive much longer in this situation. Buddleia [Buddleia daviddii or B.globosa etc.] stems in a jar of water are now introduced into the females' cage, the bottom of which is covered with a thick layer of water-saturated newspaper. Cut off any flower heads or atropos will surely hide ova therein. Within a couple of days they will begin to lay; a few at first, gradually increasing nightly, although they will lay few, if any, on feeding days. The eggs are laid on the leaves, the netting and sometimes on the cage framework (where they are difficult to remove without damage). Reintroduction of the males after about 8 days, while having doubtful benefits, causes immediate pairings, and is certainly useful in slowing down ova output, if and when required.
Part 3. Larvae and Pupation.
Ova are collected daily, put into small boxes, without tissue, and dated. As the adult lays ova singly, I never have more than 30 in one box [although recently, 90 ova packed tightly into a small container and lost in the post, all hatched]. This is probably the least problematic stage, and although by habit I breathe on the lids whenever I remove them from the ova boxes, this is not necessary. As the eggs hatch, I transfer them to small, tissue-lined containers [coleslaw or yoghurt type] with a couple of sprigs of Privet [Ligustrum vulgare]. These I take from the top of a stem, but cut off the bud and the first couple of leaves. The young larvae seem to prefer young, but not too young, leaves. After the first moult they go into 2-litre 'ice-cream' boxes  and thereafter are halved with each subsequent moult, finishing with 3 to a box for the final instar. For larvae, I use another incubator, a 4' x 3' x 3' box (1.2 x 0.9 x 0.9m), heated by a thermostatically controlled 60Watt 'loft-heater'. There is no provision for humidity, as the boxes create their own, and although there is a timer-controlled 15W light source, I rear atropos in darkness. Other than the odd occasion, when a young larvae fails to begin feeding, I seldom have any losses using this method. When the fully grown larvae change colour and begin to charge around the box, I put each one, with a tissue, into a margarine tub [500g]. Rubber bands are needed, as the very strong larvae will push the lids off with ease. The larvae roll the tissue into a sodden ball in the corner, but I do not change it, and have never had larvae fail to pupate properly under these conditions. Ova and larvae travel well in the post, but not so pupae. I've bounced them around all over the country in the boot of the car, with no ill effects, but put them in the post and about 50% are lost. I've packed them in all different ways and sent them to myself at all times of the year, but always with similar results. So if anyone knows the secret……….? email@example.comKeeping and Breeding the African Mantis Sphodromantis centralis. by Richard N. Adams
See Dictyoploca simla article
(also by Neil West) LINK HERE.
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