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.”
“Even one with Jodie Foster starring?”
“How about Anthony Hopkins?”
“Okay, sign me up. What do I have to do?”
He explained to me that they needed Death’s Head Moths for the movie.
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
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
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…