The Cabbage Tree Emperor Moth is a fascinating insect worth exploring.
As a member of the Saturniidae family, this moth stands out due to its distinct appearance and life cycle.
In this article, we will dive into the details of this captivating species, from its appearance and natural habitat to its interesting behaviors.
Cabbage Tree Emperor Moth
Caterpillars of the Cabbage Tree Emperor Moth are unmistakable for their vibrant colors, displaying a bold sequence of green, yellow, and black stripes.
As they mature, these caterpillars transform into stunning adult moths, featuring broad wings with stunning intricate patterns.
They are naturally found in various regions of Africa, where they thrive in warm and lush environments.
Cabbage Tree Emperor Moth Basics
The Cabbage Tree Emperor Moth, scientifically known as Bunaea alcinoe, belongs to the Lepidoptera order and is endemic to South Africa.
This moth species is commonly associated with cabbage trees.
Anatomy and Appearance
Some of the key features of the Cabbage Tree Emperor Moth include:
- Size: Adult moths have a wingspan of around 120-160mm.
- Color: They typically exhibit a mix of brown, white, and black shades.
- Wing pattern: Their wings have a unique pattern, featuring triangular black spots in two rows.
Reproduction and Egg Laying
Cabbage Tree Emperor Moths undergo a multi-stage reproductive cycle:
- Mating between adult moths
- Female moths lay eggs on preferred food plants
- Eggs hatch into caterpillars (larva stage)
The female moth strategically lays her eggs on or near the ground where they can find ample food.
The Cabbage Tree Emperor Moth goes through four main stages in their life cycle:
- Eggs: Moths lay their eggs on the cabbage trees’ leaves.
- Larva: The caterpillars are known to feed on the tree leaves, growing larger as they consume more.
- Pupa: Once mature, the caterpillar forms a cocoon, turning into a pupa.
- Adult moth: After the pupation is complete, the adult moth emerges from the cocoon and begins the cycle again.
Keep in mind that accurate information is essential, and it’s always important to check the sources for reliability.
Cabbage Tree Emperor Moth
Habits and Behavior
Cabbage Tree Emperor Moths have caterpillars that primarily feed on cussonia plants. Their eating habits can be summarized as:
- Eat leaves and soft plant tissues
- Feast during the caterpillar stage
- Consume cussonia plant species
Predators and Defense Mechanisms
Cabbage Tree Emperor Moths face several predators such as:
These moths possess several defense mechanisms, including:
- Camouflage: their coloration and patterns help them blend in with the environment
- Mimicry: caterpillars can imitate plants, making it difficult for predators to spot them
- Escape: adult moths can escape predators by flying away quickly
Comparison of Cabbage Tree Emperor Moths with similar species:
|Feature||Cabbage Tree Emperor Moth||Comparable Species|
|Preferred food plants||Cussonia||Varies by species|
|Predators||Bats, birds, lizards||Similar predators|
|Defense mechanisms||Camouflage, mimicry, escape||Varying levels of defense mechanisms|
Cabbage Tree and the Emperor Moth
Relationship Between Moth and Tree
The Cabbage Tree Emperor Moth is a large and beautiful insect that has a special relationship with cabbage trees.
These moths typically lay their eggs on cabbage tree leaves, providing necessary nutrients for their larvae.
The moth’s larvae feed on the leaves of the cabbage tree, and the tree’s ecosystem supports the growth and development of the moth
Impact on Cabbage Tree
The presence of Emperor Moths can have both positive and negative effects on cabbage trees. Here are some important points to consider:
- Moths help with pollination, promoting the growth of the tree
- Moth larvae may cause damage to the cabbage tree leaves, affecting its appearance and health
In summary, the Cabbage Tree Emperor Moth has a unique relationship with cabbage trees, both benefiting from each other and potentially causing harm.
Understanding this balance is important in maintaining a healthy cabbage tree and supporting its ecosystem.
Unique Body Features
The Cabbage Tree Emperor Caterpillar has some distinct features that make it easily identifiable. These include:
- White/yellow tubercular processes: These are found subdorsally and subspiracularly on the body.
- Spikes: The caterpillar is covered in sharp, white spikes that serve as a defense mechanism against predators.
Larval Form Development
The larval form of the Cabbage Tree Emperor Moth undergoes several stages, known as instars, before reaching its final form.
In its final instar, with white/yellow tubercular processes and white spikes, can be easily spotted on a cabbage tree due to its unique appearance.
Cabbage Tree Emperor Moth Caterpillar
Transforming into the Adult Moth
The Cocoon Stage
The Cabbage Tree Emperor Moth (Bunaea alcinoe) is a fascinating insect in the family Saturniidae.
As it transforms from a caterpillar to an adult moth, it passes through the cocoon stage. This stage has some unique features:
- The cocoon is barrel-shaped and made of strong silk
- It’s usually found attached to branches or leaves
Pupa to Adult Moth
The next step in the moth’s life cycle is the conversion from a pupa to an adult moth. Some key aspects of this metamorphosis include:
- The pupa’s body develops legs, wings, and other adult features
- This process takes about two to four weeks
|Wings||Forming||Functional and colorful|
|Reproduction||Not yet capable||Capable & ready|
|Mobility||None (cocooned)||Capable of flight|
Emerging from the Cocoon
Finally, the adult Cabbage Tree Emperor Moth emerges from its cocoon. This stage has some interesting characteristics:
- The adult moth is typically large and brightly patterned
- It has a wingspan of up to 6 inches (15 cm)
In conclusion, the transformation of the Cabbage Tree Emperor Moth from a pupa to an adult showcases a fascinating process that is delicately timed and intricately designed.
Edibility and Human Interaction
Edible Caterpillars in South Africa
The Cabbage Tree Emperor Moth is known for its edible caterpillars, which are a popular food source in South Africa.
These caterpillars, locally referred to as mopane worms, are rich in protein and essential nutrients, making them an important food source for many communities.
In comparison to other edible insects, mopane worms stand out as a particularly nutritious and well-liked option.
Cabbage Tree Emperor Moth Caterpillar
The Cabbage Tree Emperor Moth, a member of the Saturniidae family, is a captivating species endemic to South Africa.
With its vibrant caterpillar colors and intricate adult wing patterns, it stands as a testament to nature’s artistry.
Its life cycle, from egg to stunning moth, is a journey of transformation. The moth’s relationship with cabbage trees and its caterpillar’s role as a nutritious food source in South Africa further highlight its ecological significance.
This moth truly embodies the wonders of the natural world.
Over the years, our website, whatsthatbug.com has received hundreds of letters and some interesting images asking us about cabbage tree emporer moths. Scroll down to have a look at some of them.
Letter 1 – Cabbage Tree Emperor Moth from South Africa: Bunaea alcinoe
Not sure if you can identify caterpillars from Africa but the picture of one attached is ‘bugging’ us. We would love to know what its called, and whether its poisonous?
We came across several in a garden near Port Elizabeth, South Africa. It was about the size of an average index finger. 3-4 inches long. thank you Regards
Fran and John Barnes (England – UK)
Hi Fran and John,
All we can say for certain is that this is a Saturnid Moth Caterpillar, and it looks like one of the Royal Moths, the group that contains the Hickory Horned Devil in the U.S. Though formidable looking, these are not poisonous caterpillars.
(03/28/2007) Royal Moth caterpillar from S.Africa
Hello Daniel and Lisa Anne, Apologies for having been silent so long; I have quite a few images of edible insects to send [in fact I recently supplied edible bugs to The Tonight Show!] but am having trouble formatting them for appropriate sizes.
This dramatically-colored caterpillar from South Africa: it’s Bunaea alcinoe, as found in Kirby Wolfe’s wonderful Saturnid site. And yup, it’s edible throughout several southern African countries. Here’s the pertinent web page: http://www.insectcompany.com/silkmoth/kwbalcinoe.htm
All the best,
Hi again Dave,
Thanks so much for the identification and link. Further research on our part has revealed a common name, the Cabbage Tree Emperor Moth.
Letter 2 – Cabbage Tree Emperor Moth Caterpillar from Zimbabwe
Subject: please identify
Location: Harare Zimbabwe
January 6, 2016 10:56 pm
Good morning. Hope you well. Compliments of the season. My friend found these awesome caterpillars on her workshop floor. All of the caterpillars were moved back onto the grass. Please may you help us identify them. Thank you so much.
This is a Cabbage Tree Emperor Moth Caterpillar, Bunaea alcinoe, one of the most impressive African Caterpillars, both because of its large size and spectacular coloration, but additionally, it is often found feeding in large numbers. The Cabbage Tree Emperor Moth Caterpillar is edible.
Letter 3 – Cabbage Tree Emperor Moth Caterpillars
Location: pretoria, gauteng, south africa
March 5, 2013 12:09 am
Do you possibly know what this is, they are falling out of a tree in the garden, don’t know what tree it is.
These are the Caterpillars of the Cabbage Tree Emperor Moth, Bunaea alcinoe, and it is our understanding that they are edible.
Letter 4 – Cabbage Tree Emperor Moth Caterpillar
Location: Amboseli, Kenya
December 27, 2012 11:39 am
Please can you help me identify this species. It’s a caterpillar found in East Africa and is about 3-4 inches long and about as thick as a man’s thumb.
Signature: curious conservationist
Dear curious conservationist,
This is the caterpillar of the Cabbage Tree Emperor Moth or just plain Emperor Moth, Bunaea alcinoe. You may verify our identification on the African Moths website. We learned from David Gracer, who runs Small Stock Foods, that they are edible.
Letter 5 – Cross Striped Cabbageworms eat Collard Greens
beautiful caterpillars destroying my collards
Location: Washington, DC
September 4, 2011 5:38 pm
I love your site! I found these beauties chowing down on my collard plants in early September in Washington, DC, and I have yet to identify them. They’re about an inch long and didn’t appear hairy until I expanded the photos. They have a black and white pattern on top, bordered by yellow which then turns to green on the bottom. Reddish-brown head. Maybe a type of skipper?
We have been trying all manner of web searching options to try to identify your caterpillars, which looked vaguely familiar to us, but we could not recall their identity. Finally an image search of “collard eating caterpillar” turned up (numerous pages into the search) an image that matched your photo.
It is on the BellaOnLine forum under “What is Eating my Brussels Sprouts?”, and it was identified as the Cross Striped Cabbageworm, Evergestis rimosalis, by Lisa Shea.
We double checked that on BugGuide and learned that the identification was correct and we have now created a new caterpillar sub-sub-category of Snout Moth Caterpillars to house this posting. Since this caterpillar looked familiar to us, we suspect we may have an unidentified posting somewhere in our archive.
Wow – thanks so much! It’s interesting that such a beautiful caterpiller grows up to be a rather plain moth.
Letter 6 – Cabbage Emperor Moth from South Africa
Subject: Beautiful giant moth
Geographic location of the bug: Pretoria, South Africa
Time: 01:49 PM EDT
Your letter to the bugman: Hi! I found this beautiful giant moth on my windowsill and was wondering where I can satisfy my curiosity on their lifespan, feeding, etc. Google doesn’t seem to have much?
It looked like it was busy dying, which made me kind of sad. I love these creatures, nature really is amazing! How can I get more moths into my garden, and if they feed on the trees (which I don’t mind), does it actually damage the tree?
How you want your letter signed: Dominique
We believe we have correctly identified your Giant Silk Moth or Emperor Moth as the Cabbage Emperor Moth Bunaea alcinoe thanks to images posted to African Moths. There does appear to be some variability in colors and markings.
We get many more Cabbage Emperor Moth Caterpillar images than we do images of adult moths. Watch for the Caterpillars on preferred food plants. According to African Moths: “LARVAL FOODPLANTS Celtis africana, Celtis kraussiana, Bauhinia reticulata, Croton, Cussonia spicata, Ekebergia ruepellii, Ekebergia mayeri, Gymnospora senegalensis, Khaya anthotheca, Khaya grandifolia, Harpephyllum caffrum, Terminalia catappa, Maesa lanceolata, Sapium ellipticum, Persea americana, Anthocleista schweinfurthii, Piper umbellatum, Schinus molle, Crossopteryx febrifuga, Dacryodes edulis, Mangifera indica, Acacia auriculiformis, Sarcocephalus latifolius.” Numerous food plants probably contribute to extensive range, which is according to African Moths: “Angola, Benin, Burkina Fasso, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Congo, DRCongo, Egypt, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Ghana, Kenya, Madagascar, Malawi, Mozambique, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Sudan, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia, Zimbabwe.”
Letter 7 – Cabbage Emperor Moth from South Africa
Subject: Large moth S.A
Location: Polowane, South Africa
October 26, 2016 12:39 am
Hi there bugman. Please help ID, northern South Africa, Limpopo Prov. 13cm wingspan
Signature: Ryno J
Letter 8 – Cabbage Tree Emperor Moth Caterpillar from Sierra Leone
Subject: What’s this bug from Sierra Leone
Location: Sierra Leone
September 11, 2016 12:00 am
I visited a rice farm in Makare, Sierra Leone this week and found this bug crawling around? It looks like something from a cartoon but what is it?
This is a Cabbage Tree Emperor Moth Caterpillar, Bunaea alcinoe, and this red form is not as common as a black morph with yellow spikes. The Caterpillars are edible, and the adult Cabbage Tree Emperor Moth is a beautiful creature.
Letter 9 – Cabbage Tree Emperor Moth Caterpillar from Uganda
April 6, 2017 1:19 am
What kind of caterpillar is this. What will it turn into.
Dear Mr from Uganda,
This is either an Emperor Moth Caterpillar, Bunaea alcinoe, or a closely related species in the same genus. Commonly called the Cabbage Tree Emperor Moth Caterpillar, this species is edible.
We believe your individual has finished eating and it is searching for the ideal place to pupate. The adult Cabbage Tree Emperor Moth is a gorgeous creature.
Letter 10 – Cabbage Tree Emperor Moth Caterpillars from the Ivory Coast
Subject: Big catrepillar -moth
Location: côte d’ivoire
March 12, 2015 11:19 am
Just found a few of these moths in my garden in Abidjan,
Close to our Ylang Ylang tree,
Size of a finger !
Thanks for helping in identifying them.
These are Cabbage Tree Emperor Moth Caterpillars, Bunaea alcinoe, and they can be very plentiful at times. They are considered edible. The adult Cabbage Tree Emperor Moth which is pictured on iNaturalist is quite beautiful.
Letter 11 – Cabbage Tree Emperor Moth Caterpillars from Zimbabwe
Subject: Caterpillars, black with red spots and white spines
Geographic location of the bug: Harare, Zimbabwe
Time: 05:01 AM EDT
Your letter to the bugman: Hundreds of these caterpillars appear on only one tree in the garden, only in January. Sorry we don’t know the name of the tree either! We would love to know what butterfly or moth they turn into.
How you want your letter signed: Julian
We are very amused by your image of a bowl full of Cabbage Emperor Moth Caterpillars, Bunaea alcinoe, because this species is eaten in some regions. More information on the nutritional content can be found on this Eureka Mag article.
Letter 12 – Cabbage Tree Emperor Moth Caterpillars from Ghana
Subject: Giant African Caterpillars
Location: Ghana Africa
January 20, 2015 7:07 pm
I found these two beauties in Ghana Africa. They looked quite fascinating so I got a pic. Any idea what they are?
Letter 13 – Cabbage Tree Emperor Moth from Sierra Leone: Gynandromorph or Not???
Subject: Interesting bilateral gynandromorph
Location: Freetown, Sierra Leone
July 2, 2015 5:07 am
Spotted in Freetown, Sierra Leone at 9 am on July 2nd. Possibly a species of dactyloceras?
We believe your moth is a Cabbage Tree Emperor Moth or Common Emperor Moth, Bunaea alcinoe, a species of Giant Silkmoth found in many African countries that is pictured on African Moths, and we are really curious why you believe this is a bilateral gynandromorph.
It appears that half of the body is in brighter light than the other half which is in shadow, and we cannot really see the antennae in your image. This species does not have pronounced sexual dimorphism, and a primary means of distinguishing the male from the female quickly is the antennae.
If we are missing something, please let us know why you believe this to be a bilateral gynandromorph, the scientific name for an hermaphrodite. Please get back to us and let us know why you believe this is a gynandromorph
Update: July 9, 2015
I believed the moth in question was a bilateral gynandromorph because it had one hairy antenna (the left one) and one not, and because the yellow ‘eye’ was only present on the left wing. Sorry about the low-quality photo – it was a quick cell phone snap!
Thanks for getting back to us Julian. If you observed two different types of antennae, then this might be a gynandromorph, but that difference is not visible in the image you provided. Male Giant Silkmoths have more developed, feathery antennae, while those of the female are much thinner.
Though the comparison is of a different species, you can see the antennae of the male Cecropia Moth compared to a female on the Prairie Haven site, after scrolling down. You can also compare the male and female mating Polyphemus moths on our site, with the male being the individual on the right in the second image.
The yellow eyespot or oculi in your image is not a consideration. Many Giant Silkmoths have oculi on the lower wings and the spots are generally hidden while the moth is resting. When disturbed, the oculi are revealed, frequently startling a predator like a bird who may think it has disturbed a much larger predator.
The moth in your image is winking by only revealing one spot. The spot on the other side is hidden by the upper wing. We also have a nice image of a “winking” Polyphemus Moth on our site.
Letter 14 – Cabbage Tree Emperor Moth from Tanzania
Subject: Big moth
Location: USA River, Arusha, Tanzania
January 13, 2016 2:20 pm
Hey we live in Arusha northern Tanzania and saw this huge moth this morning. That’s my thumb for scale. What is it Please?
Signature: Thanks from the Wood family
Dear Wood Family,
This is a Cabbage Tree Emperor Moth, Bunaea alcinoe, though we cannot say for certain which subspecies. We will contact Bill Oehlke to see if he can provide the subspecies. We suspect he may request permission to post your image to his site and we hope you grant the permission. We get many more requests to identify the caterpillars of the Cabbage Tree Emperor Moth.
Yes both sightings recent. The Cabbage Tree Emperor Moth was yesterday morning, while the Giant Silkmoth was about a month ago or so I think but I’d have to check.
Of course Mr Oehlke can post either or both images to his site, with our pleasure.
Letter 15 – Harlequin Cabbage Bug
can you name this beetle?
… and do i need to eradicate from my garden? or is it a good bug?
Effective communication is comprised of brevity, clarity, simplicity & humanity.
You have a Harlequin Cabbage Bug, Murgantia histrionica, which is a True Bug, one of the Shield or Stink Bugs from the Family Pentatomidae, not a Beetle. They range across the U.S.
They feed on the juices of cruciform plants including cabbage, kale, and broccoli as well as turnip, horseradish, potato, beet, bean, grape, squash, sunflower, ragweed and citrus foliage. I find them on wild mustard.
The female lays double rows of barrel shaped eggs and wingless nymphs are active all summer. They are injurious to plants, causing blotching on the foilage and ruining the commercial value.
Letter 16 – Parasitized Cabbage Emperor Moth Caterpillars from South Africa
Subject: Emperor moth caterpillar
Geographic location of the bug: Plettenberg Bay. South Africa
Time: 03:26 AM EDT
Your letter to the bugma: We have noticed these beautiful caterpillars at the same time each year. This year quite a few of them have “eggs” attached to them. It looks like these caterpillars die. Could this be a parasite wasp?
How you want your letter signed: Jenny
We believe we already responded to a comment you posted to another posting on our site. Alas, these Cabbage Emperor Moth Caterpillars, Bunaea alcinoe, appear to have fallen victim to a parasitoid Wasp, probably a Braconid or Chalcid Wasp.
According to Siyabona Africa: “The Bunaea alcinoe (common emperor) caterpillars mentioned above, had been discovered by a tiny specie of the large family of parasitoid Braconid wasps (Braconidae). The adult wasp had penetrated the live caterpillar(s) with her ovipositor and laid eggs inside the caterpillar.
The eggs had hatched into larvae which fed within the caterpillar. The larvae, on reaching full size, cut their way out of the caterpillar and formed tiny, white cocoons, within which they pupated, on the outside of the caterpillar.
Within a few days the mature wasps cut their way out of the cocoons to repeat the cycle. The caterpillars, denuded of their nutrients and depending on their rate of leaf consumption, slowly shrivel and die.”
Many thanks for this detailed and interesting reply. Much appreciated.
Letter 17 – Cabbage White Chrysalis from Australia
Subject: Identify Chrysalis
May 2, 2015 6:14 pm
I hope that you can help me to identify this chrysalis. It was photographed by a friend in Australia and he has no idea. I was asked to help but find most search engines take me off at a tangent and I have been unable to get a decent photographic library from which to identify this one. I really appreciate any help you might be able to give.
We were mistaken into thinking that the silken girdle supporting this chrysalis in an upright position indicates that it is a Swallowtail in the family Papilionidae. We are not certain of the exact species, but you may compare this image to images of Australian Swallowtail Chrysalides posted to Butterflyhouse.
We received a comment with a correction from Ben indicating that this is the chrysalis of a Cabbage White.