Animal Species:Emperor Gum Moth

This large moth is common around Sydney and is attracted to street lights at night.

Adult Emperor Gum Moth

R.Jessop © Australian Museum

Standard Common Name

Emperor Gum Moth

Size range

6 cm

Distribution

The Emperor Gum Moth is found in the Northern Territory, Queensland, New South Wales, and Victoria. Introduced to New Zealand.

Habitat

The Emperor Gum Moth lives in forests and woodlands.

Life cycle

The Emperor Gum Moth glues its eggs onto eucalypt leaves, which the large green caterpillars eat when they emerge. The caterpillars are covered in protective spines and build a tough cocoon in which to pupate. They may reinforce this cocoon with bark and remain inside it for one or more years depending on environmental conditions. The adults emerge in summer. The life span of adult Emperor Gum Moths is limited to only a couple of weeks because they are unable to feed. They must rely solely on the energy consumed as caterpillars.

Classification

Species:
eucalypti
Genus:
Opodiphthera
Subfamily:
Saturniinae
Family:
Saturniidae
Superfamily:
Bombycoidea
Order:
Lepidoptera
Class:
Insecta
Subphylum:
Uniramia
Phylum:
Arthopoda
Kingdom:
Animalia

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Tags moths, insects, arthropods, invertebrates, wildlife of sydney, identification,

10 comments

David Britton - 4.04 PM, 16 April 2012

The species of Antherea are quite similar....

David Britton - 4.04 PM, 16 April 2012

Dear Jean,

As far as I know the Emperor gum moth is not established in the USA. There are quite a few local species of Saturniidae (the emperor moth family) in North America, so I expect you have one of these on hand. Have a look at some of these images to see if they match your moths.

Busyjk - 9.04 AM, 14 April 2012
I have just found two of the emperor gum moths today on a tree in my front yard. I am in the state of Ohio, USA. I have never seen them before around here. Can you tell me if that is very unusual for them to be in this part of the world? Thanks
Paula20 - 2.01 PM, 11 January 2012
I live on the edge of the Otways national Park in south west vic. over the last week we have counted 14 gum emperor caterpillars on 6 of our small gum trees. The caterpillars are all different sizes from 2cm to 10cm in length. We have been here for 5 yrs and this is the first time we have noticed them. We havent seen any moths though.
10.gator - 10.11 AM, 30 November 2011
I have lived in Mount Dandenong victoria since the early 70'S and have only ever seen the Emperor Gum Moth a handfull of times over those years. However over the past few months I have seen about 5 and las tnight 29th Nov 2011 6 of them flew in to my veranda attracted by the outside light. They are still there thismorning. I live on a ten acer property bordering the olinda creek with a lot or gums. My children were very interested to see such big moths and so many at once. They are such a calm moth not like the small ones that fly all over the place madly crasshing into everything. Their big fury bodies and legs are beautifyl. They look like fury munchkins. I hope to see them around for years to come.
David Britton - 11.09 AM, 06 September 2011

There is no concrete evidence as to what is causing decline of insect species in Australian urban areas. The main reason for this is that there has not been much research into the causes, and as a result, often very little sound documentation of decline other than sporadic anecdotal observations. Given that the abundance of insects in natural popluations can vary enormously over seasons it can be difficult relying on these sporadic observations, as they tend to focus on years when there are either a superabundance, or years when no insects are sighted at all.

However, if I was to suggest a couple of causes for decline it would be alteration of vegetation, so removal of suitable hosts for the larval stages of the moths, and the prevalence of street and other lighting at night. There is now some good evidence from the northern hemisphere that street lights in particular have caused the decline of nocturnal insects in urban areas. The lights attract adults at night, and instead of going off and mating and laying eggs they become bird food the next morning. There are no studies in Australia which have demonstrated this, but it does seem plausible as an explanation.

Hanna McAbbot - 12.09 PM, 05 September 2011
Emperor gum caterpillars and moths were common up to 50 years ago in Melbourne, and could often be found on peppercorn trees. As children we often collected the caterpillars and watched them transform into moths. I have seen one empty 'cocoon' recently but otherwise no sign of them for decades. I fear they are in decline. Any suggestions about what might have caused this?
David Britton - 6.03 PM, 08 March 2011

Hi Michael,

Emperor gum moths are still very common around Sydney and in other areas on NSW, so I would not be concerned about the conservation status of this species. I would expect your lack of sightings is more to do with not being in the right place at the right time to observe adult activity.

I have not heard of any predation of larvae by european wasps. However, I have collected this species in areas where wasp populations are very large (eg. near Kosiuszko National Park), so I would not think the wasps pose a major threat.

michael.biodiversity@hotmail.com - 1.03 PM, 04 March 2011
I found an Emperor Gum Moth (Opodipthera eucalypti) male in Gerringong two days ago. It's the first one I've seen for 30 years and it's good to see the species still hanging on. We've had a tropical spring and summer here on the South Coast and it's been a bumper year for insects. I believe the European Wasp predates these moths. Can anyone give us more detail? Is this correct? Thanks. Michael
arnoldgoldman - 10.01 AM, 11 January 2011
I am new to Tasmania but have seen two emperor gum moths today in Wynyard on the north coast. From what I see on the internet they have been found by others, so this is not a rare occurrence.

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