In response to a request from Barb Taub, I am reposting this article from 2015. 

I raised the insects for the Silence of the Lambs. How that happened is sort of interesting…    

I got a phone call one day in my lab from a colleague at the USDA in Maryland, where there was an active entomology group. The first thing I heard was “How would you like to get involved in a movie?”

Being the attention hog that I am, I replied, “Tell me more.”

“Well, it’s a horror movie.”

“A horror movie? I don’t think so. They’re so shlocky.”     Jodie Foster

“Even one with Jodie Foster starring?”


“How about Anthony Hopkins?”

“Okay, sign me up. What do I have to do?”

Manduca sexta
Manduca sexta

He explained to me that they needed Death’s Head Moths for the movie.

Deaths Head Moth
Deaths Head Moth

I wasn’t raising these moths, and besides, they were indigenous to Europe and Asia, and there was no question of the government allowing me to import them. However, the adult of moth I did work with, Manduca sexta (otherwise known as the tobacco hornworm), did look a great deal like the adult Death’s Head.

Soon after that, I received a call from the “insect wrangler” for the movie, who told me roughly how many of each stage they would need (larva, pupa and adult) and when. He also asked me a lot about how to get them to “act” – move around, be still, fly.

Here are my moths
Here are my moths

So I got to work. We bought a trunk to transport them in and separated it into three compartments for the three stages, equipped with lights and a self-contained fan. I beefed up my colony to fit their time line, and bit actors from the movie came twice to collect the trunk and the insects. The trunk flew back to Pittsburg first class. I don’t know about the actor.

The second time an actor visited, I pumped him about the movie. He told me the scene in which the policemen come into the room where Dr. Hannibal Lector is caged, only to find him gone but a dead detective mounted on the cage, was not

Lt. Boyle (Charles Napier) ends up as Hannibal's homage to surrealist painter Francis Bacon
Lt. Boyle (Charles Napier) ends up as Hannibal’s homage to surrealist painter Francis Bacon

rehearsed. In order to get a real reaction from the actors, they did one take. He said it was indeed horrifying. I also learned the pupa extracted from the young woman’s throat in the morgue scene was actually a Tootsie Roll.

The scene in the basement with all of my lovely Manduca flying or crawling around was wonderful, at least to my eye. The adults were made to look like a Death’s Head moths with the addition of clear false fingernails, painted with the skull, glued to their thoraces.

I didn’t see the picture when it was first released. As I said, I am not a fan of horror and dislike being scared to death. I did see it when it was released as a video. From the comfort of my living room, I realized it was a darned good movie.

One thing I should have done, though, is visit the set. I could have, although I would have had to pay my way. Opportunity missed…




  1. That’s cool. I, too, have no desire to see this movie (or any in the genre of horror. However, it is more than interesting that you had this experience AND that you shared it. Most people are not aware of all the small but rather significant aspects of a movie. You are famously appreciated!

  2. And I thought my link to the movies was cool! Back in 2004, as webmaster for The Hawk Conservancy Trust, I was contacted by an artist from Rhythm and Hues Studios looking for detailed photographs of a Harris’ Hawk to assist in their modelling for the film Elektra (2005, starring Jennifer Garner). In the film, a Harris’ Hawk emerges from a character’s tattoo and flies to camera. R&H wanted it to be anatomically accurate, especially around the eyes and tail. I provided thirty-odd detailed close-up images of a bird called Kerry that I was working with at the time, and I’m delighted to say that when I eventually saw the movie, I recognised my bird. Not a patch on supplying Death’s Head moths for a horror film, though.

  3. Amazing! It’s such a famous film and I know what I’ll be looking out for when it’s next shown here!

  4. Reblogged this on Barb Taub and commented:
    Winner of (my) 2021 Halloween Horror Enabler award goes to this AWESOME moth-wrangler. (Runner-up awards to the unsung heroes who painted skulls onto clear fingernails and GLUED THEM TO MOTH THORACES. Seriously.)

  5. Fascinating, Noelle! I never read or watch horror, BUT hubby and the grands do… We have the movie on VCR and the next time they watch it, I’ll be sure to tell them about your involvement… Thanks for sharing!

  6. I think, when this post first came out I mentioned that I’d bred death’s head hawk moths, even having them emerging in a fishtank at the end of my bed when I was about 15… the squeak is truly extraordinary… But not as cool as breeding them for a movie…

  7. Wow! This is pretty darn amazing. What a cool “claim to fame!” 🙂
    I’m not a fan of horror, but I did watch this movie on video after it was released.

  8. petespringerauthor

    I’m one of the few people who probably haven’t seen this movie. I feel the same as you about horror films, Noelle. On the other hand, who else can say their moths were in a movie. My mom was an extra in a movie, and our car was in a scene, cruising down the street. Of course, no one else cared, but we were laughing like crazy.

  9. Oh my GOD, Noelle, The Silence of the Lambs is one movie that had me closing my eyes coz I couldn’t handle the terror it instilled in me, and the book with my crazy imagination was even worse. I can manage all sorts of ghostly horror but Hannibal Lecter, phew still gives me nightmares. I do wish that you had a chance to view the sets, but still fantastic to read that you had a part to play in the creation of the fantastic movie.

  10. Hello Noelle,
    What an interesting experience! My husband and I did watch Silence of the Lambs (it is very famous in Japan) and like many others have already stated, I was covering my eyes for a lot of it. It was such a wonderfully acted film though, there are not many like it. Now I feel a “connection” to this film thanks to your contribution 🙂 and perhaps we will watch it again this Halloween. Thanks much for sharing and hope you are well.
    Best wishes,

    1. Thank you so much, Takami. Your tale is pretty usual for this movie! Even watching it at home and sort of knowing what was in the film, I was covering my eyes a lot of the time!
      Good health to you and your family.

  11. A fascinating story Noelle, that was a great and dramatic film. Your story, kinda made me think of one of my brushes with a movie star that I nerly missed! They were filming part of the Batman film Batman returns in the DC area, with Michelle Pfeiffer playing catwoman.

    At the time I was troubleshooting and running the kitchen in a restaurant in Northern Virgina.
    It was a busy mid week evening and just as the dinner rush was over the owner’s son Sean told me that Michelle Pfeiffer was having dinner in quiet section of the restaurant, but I didn’t believe him. A short while later he told me Michelle wanted to thank me and buy me a drink, at first I thought he was joshing me, but eventually I went out into the restaurant and sat with Ms. Pfeiffer as she asked me about the food and we chatted for about 10 minutes. Even after a long days filming, she look great.

    1. What a great story! I’ve never had the opportunity to sit down with a star and have a chat – but I did meet the actors who played in the original All Creatures Great and Small when we were vacationing in the Yorkshire Dales many years ago.

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