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Last Updated: Thursday, 14 August, 2003, 05:55 GMT 06:55 UK
'Death's Head' caterpillar found
Caterpillar with mobile phone
The brightly coloured caterpillar is 10cm in length
A rare death's head hawk moth caterpillar has been discovered chomping on potato plants at the University of Wales' research centre outside Bangor.

Potato researchers at the centre in Abergwyngregyn spotted the large, brightly-coloured caterpillar devouring potato leaves in a plot of experimental plants.

The moth, featured in the Silence of the Lambs film starring Anthony Hopkins as Hannibal Lecter, is named after the characteristic skull and crossbones on its back.

The four-inch moth is the largest ever found in the UK and is rarely seen here.

It is more commonly found in southern Europe and north Africa.

Death's Head Hawk Moth
The moth is named because of its skull and crossbones markings

"A few adult moths are found each year in UK as illegal immigrants but the caterpillars are almost never seen," said Dr David Shaw of the research centre.

"It is not known to breed here as the pupae do not survive our cold winters.

"Our staff have removed the caterpillar from the trials for safe keeping and have named it Frederick.

"But we will not know if it a Fred or a Freda until it pupates and emerges as a moth," he added.

"We continue to feed it with copious quantities of potato leaves so that it can complete its life cycle."

Bee hives

Dr Shaw and his colleagues are part of the Sárvári Research Trust, based at Henfaes Research Centre in Abergwyngregyn.

Luckily, the group's research technician, Debbie Evans, is also Moth Recorder for Gwynedd, so the moth's presence has been officially recorded.

Bangor University's research centre
The caterpillar was found feeding at the University's research centre

A death's head hawk moth was found on an industrial estate in south Wales in May 2000.

Wildlife experts were delighted to discover the moth at the Queensway Meadows Industrial Estate in Newport, Gwent - the first time in 16 years it had been seen in the county.

It is known to enter bee hives to feed on honey where it emits a loud squeak like a queen bee.

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