The Emperor Moth is a fascinating, large insect that captures the attention of many nature enthusiasts. These moths are best known for their vibrant, colorful wings and their impressive size. They are primarily nocturnal, which means you’ll most likely find them flying about at night.
Imperial Moth caterpillars come in a variety of colors and can grow to an astonishing 5.5 inches in length. As they develop, their appearance changes, making it an interesting process to observe. Not only are these caterpillars noteworthy for their size, but they also transform into stunning adult moths that are impossible to confuse with other species due to their unique patterns and colors.
An essential aspect to consider about the Emperor Moth is the selection of host plants on which they lay their eggs. These plants play a crucial role in the life cycle of these moths, and understanding their connection to specific host plants will offer valuable insights into their survival and reproduction.
Emperor Moth Overview
The Emperor Moth, scientifically known as Saturnia pavonia, is a large and attractive moth species belonging to the Saturniidae family. Noted for their vibrant colors and bold patterns, these moths are especially fascinating for their unique appearance.
Distribution and Habitat
Emperor Moths are widely found across the British Isles, including England, Wales, Scotland, and Ireland, as well as in other parts of Europe. They inhabit various ecosystems such as heathland, moorland, and woodland, showing a preference for areas with birches and fens. Some typical habitats include:
- Woodland (especially with birches)
Thankfully, the Emperor Moth is not considered an endangered species. Their conservation status in most regions is stable, mainly due to their relatively wide distribution and adaptability to different habitats. However, it is essential to continue monitoring their populations and ensure the preservation of their habitats for their continued survival.
Appearance and Characteristics
Size and Wingspan
- The Emperor Moth is a large and impressive moth
- Wingspan ranges from 3 to 4 inches (7.5 – 10 cm)
The Emperor Moth is a large and visually appealing species. With a wingspan that ranges between 3 and 4 inches (7.5 – 10 cm), it is one of the most eye-catching moths native to the UK and Europe.
Colour and Markings
- Males have mostly brownish-grey wings
- Both have large eye spots on their wings
- Eye spots are striking and resemble rings
The overall colour of the Emperor Moth varies slightly between males and females. Males typically have brownish-grey wings, while both sexes display large, striking eye spots on their wings, which resemble rings. These eye spots help ward off predators by acting as a defense mechanism to confuse or scare potential attackers.
- Females have more rounded wings
- Males have more pointed wings
- Males have feathery antennae
- Females have less feathery antennae
Emperor Moths exhibit sexual dimorphism, with males and females having unique physical traits. Their wing shape is one such distinction, with females having more rounded wings, while males have slightly more pointed wings.
|Feature||Male Emperor Moth||Female Emperor Moth|
|Shape of Wings||Pointed||Rounded|
Antennae are another sexually dimorphic feature in these moths. Males sport feathery antennae, while females possess less feathery antennae. This difference plays a role in the moth’s reproductive success, as the male’s feathery antennae help them sense and locate the pheromones released by females during mating season.
Life Cycle and Behaviour
Eggs and Caterpillars
Imperial moths lay their eggs on the foliage of host plants. The eggs hatch into caterpillars, which have a wide range of appearances and can grow up to 5.5 inches in length.
Some key features of imperial moth caterpillars include:
- Large size
- Variability in appearance
- Feeding on host plant foliage
Pupa and Adult Moths
After the caterpillar stage, the imperial moth enters the pupa stage. The caterpillar forms a cocoon and becomes a pupa, eventually emerging as an adult moth.
Characteristics of pupa and adult moths:
- Pupa development occurs within a cocoon
- Adult moths have a beautiful and variable appearance
- Adult males have more feathery antennae than females
Feeding and Predators
Imperial moth caterpillars feed on the foliage of a variety of host plants. They are considered generalists, as they will consume almost any type of plant material.
As for predators, some common ones include:
- Small mammals
- Carnivorous insects
There is currently no specific conservation status for the imperial moth. However, their population, like other moths and butterflies, can be affected by habitat loss and pesticide use.
Comparison: Imperial Moth vs. Miller Moth
|Feature||Imperial Moth||Miller Moth|
|Caterpillar Size||Up to 5.5 inches (large)||Smaller than imperial moth|
|Caterpillar Diet||Foliage of various host plants||Mostly grasses and grains|
|Adult Moth Size||Large||Smaller than imperial moth|
|Adult Moth Flight||Mostly nocturnal||Mostly nocturnal|
|Predators||Birds, mammals, insects||Birds, mammals, insects|
Food Sources and Habitats
Woodland Rides and Heath
The Emperor Moth prefers living in woodland rides and heath areas, where they find ideal food sources. Some of the moth’s preferred food plants include:
These plants provide an excellent source of nutrition while allowing the moth to camouflage itself with its surroundings.
Hedgerows and Field Margins
Hedgerows and field margins are another suitable habitat for the Emperor Moth. These areas usually contain a variety of woody plants, such as:
- Other shrubs
These food plants are crucial for the growth and survival of the moth throughout its life cycle.
Sand Dunes and Moorland
Finally, sand dunes and moorland provide yet another ideal habitat for the Emperor Moth. Here, the moth can thrive among a variety of plant species while staying close to nature. The list of food plants found in this habitat includes:
- Other native plants
|Habitat||Food Plant Example 1||Food Plant Example 2|
By understanding the various habitats and food sources of the Emperor Moth, we gain a better insight into this beautiful butterfly’s behavior and preferences.
History and Classification
The Emperor Moth belongs to the Saturniidae family, and the species was first classified by Carl Linnaeus. They are considered large, showy insects that are known to fly at night. Caterpillars of this moth can grow up to 5.5 inches and display a variety of colors, from light to dark green and brown shades.
Some features of the Emperor Moth include:
- Large size
- Yellow wings with spots and speckles
- Highly variable caterpillar coloration
Mating and Pheromones
For mating, Emperor Moths use pheromones to communicate. Male moths have more feathery antennae, which helps them to detect these pheromones in the air and locate females for mating. Mating usually occurs at night, aligning with their nocturnal nature.
Comparison of Male and Female Emperor Moths:
Although not a primary predator, owls may occasionally prey on Emperor Moths due to their nocturnal activity. As these moths fly and mate primarily at night, they can be difficult to observe and photograph, making pictures involving them a challenging but rewarding achievement in the world of science.
Over the years, our website, whatsthatbug.com has received hundreds of letters and some interesting images asking us about these insects. Scroll down to have a look at some of them.
Letter 1 – Cabbage Tree Emperor Caterpillars from South Africa
Black spiny caterpillar
Mon, Feb 16, 2009 at 12:43 PM
These caterpillars were found in a garden in Pretoria South Africa on a Kiepersol tree. The caterpillars are about 8 cm long. They are balck (or dark navy blue) with reddish spots on bothe sides of the body and sharop white spikes running next to the red spots on their bodies. I know this is a site for North America but would appreciate it very much if you perhaps have information for me.
Pretoria, South Africa
These spectacular caterpillars are the larval form of the equally spectacular Cabbage Tree Emperor Moth, Bunaea alcinoe. The Cabbage Tree Emperor Moth is one of the Giant Silk Moths.
Letter 2 – Orchard Swallowtail Caterpillar and Tailed Emperor Caterpillar from Australia
My son is obsessed with bugs ( at 2 1/2) and so I have taken to photographing them for him. Could you tell me what these catapillars are and what butterfly they turn into. The first ones ( spiky) were both on the same mandarin tree but I did not get to see what chrysalis was, presumalbly because birds ate them? This second cool catapillar ( with horns on it’s head) I think may be off a poincianna tree. What do you think? We live in Brisbane, Australia. The third ( fat brown) catapillar was on a benjamin fig tree and again I think the birds got them. I also am sending in this pic of a cool weevil thing that my son caught and later let go. It was trying very hard to bite him! Thanks, Connor is a real fan even though he can’t read he would sit and look at bug picutres on your site all day if I let him! Yours,
|Orchard Swallowtail Caterpillar||Tailed Emperor Caterpillar|
Letter 3 – Orange Owl Caterpillar from Mexico
Location: Las Barracas, Baja California Sur, Mexico
January 27, 2013 4:38 pm
Greetings Mr. Bugman!
Can you please identify this beauty who was just making his way across the brick pathway outside my kitchen? He is just a little over 3 inches long. I gently relocated him to the brush before a bird saw him and figured he would be a tasty snack. Thanks in advance! Wendy from Southern Baja California, Mexico.
We believe this caterpillar is in the subfamily Apaturinae, the Emperors. You can see many similar North American examples on BugGuide. We will contact Keith Wolfe to see if he is able to provide a species identification.
Thank you so much for taking the time to respond. I followed the link you sent and it certainly seems that is is indeed a caterpillar in the Apaturinae subfamily, and a very colorful one at that.
Keith Wolfe provides a correction: Orange Owl Caterpillar
Wendy, this is a wandering Orange Owl/Owlet (Opsiphanes boisduvallii, subfamily Satyrinae, which feeds on palms) in search of a safe place to pupate. Here’s what it looked like before onset of the faded coloration and transformation that follows . . .
. . . and fyi on a useful butterfly checklist:
http://www.mexicobirding.com/about/documents/ButterflyChecklist_Baja_2009.pdf. Daniel, though Emperor (Apaturinae) caterpillars are rather similar, please scroll down
http://butterfliesofamerica.com/t/Apaturinae_a.htm to see the many differences.
Dear Keith and Daniel,
Thanks so much for the positive identification: Orange Owl Caterpillar.
Bugs (and birds) are fascinating to me. You have both made this 55 year old woman feel like a little kid at Christmas!
Letter 4 – Cabbage Emperor Caterpillars in South Africa
Subject: Photos African Emperor Caterpillars
Location: Pietermaritzburg. Kwa Zulu Natal
March 7, 2016 8:53 am
Found these climbing my Cabbage tree Sunday morning. Poor tree is now completely stripped
Signature: George Roberts
We are going back through unanswered mail from March to post submissions we think our readership may find interesting. Though your tree has been stripped of leaves by these Cabbage Tree Emperor Moth Caterpillars, the leaves will grow back and the tree will survive. You can always eat the caterpillars.
Letter 5 – Emperor Caterpillar
Location: Nashville, TN
November 23, 2010 10:52 pm
I found this guy in my backyard during midsummer.
I live in Nashville, TN and someone from the forestry service asked me where I found him and what he was.
The first two photos are of the same caterpillar that is in question.
The last photo that I was told was a spiny oak caterpillar. I’m not sure how accurate that is.
Anyway, any help is appreciated!
Signature: The Bug Man
Dear Bug Man,
This caterpillar is one of the Emperor Caterpillars in the genus Asterocampa, which includes the Hackberry Emperor and the Tawny Emperor. Here is a photo of the caterpillar of a Tawny Emperor from BugGuide.
Letter 6 – Make My Day: Christmas Caterpillar or Pine Emperor Moth Caterpillar from South Africa
Subject: Caterpillar South Africa
Location: Southern S.Africa west coast near Cape Town
December 13, 2015 1:36 pm
Whilst jogging on the west coast of the southern cape in South Africa I found this giant caterpillar crawling across the road. Its colours were truly astounding to me. No idea what species – or even whether it is a moth or butterfly.
Any help would be amazing!
The dayglow red, green and blue colors on this Pine Emperor Moth Caterpillar, Nudaurelia cytherea, are quite impressive. Though we don’t normally link to Wikipedia, that popular site states it is: “commonly known as the … christmas caterpillar due to its festive colouration.” Your images, including the close-up showing the prolegs, are quite beautiful and they really made our day.
Wow… That is super cool! Thank you. I sent in another submission of a more mysterious creature – what may be a larval lady bug. Also from Cape Town. I would LOVE to know what you thought of that.
Thank you so very much. This is an amazing service!!!
We forgot to mention that your Christmas Caterpillars are reported to be edible.
Letter 7 – Pine Emperor Moth Caterpillar from South Africa
Location: WEst Coast National Park, Langebaan , S. Africa
November 20, 2010 11:28 am
We saw a few of these caterpillars in the West Coast National Park about 100kms north of Cape Town , S.Africa. It looks like a mopane worm, and is the right size for a mopane worm but from what I can gather they are not found this far south and I dont think there are any mopane trees in the Park.
Signature: Max Hopfl
We identified your caterpillar as the Pine Emperor Moth, Nudaurelia cytherea, by researching on the World’s Largest Saturniidae Site. We found information on a virus that is being used to combat infestations of the Pine Emperor Moth Caterpillar on the Science in Africa website. We also found information that the caterpillar is edible and appeared on a stamp from Uganda.
Phew, that was quick. Many thanks for the identification. I knew it couldnt be the mopane worm , gonimbrasia belina,( which is also edible and indeed a very important food source for the northern people of southern Africa: Wiki says: It is estimated that South Africa alone trades 1.6 million kilogrammes of mopane worm annually, 8 and that Botswana’s involvement in this industry nets it roughly $8 million annually) as the mopane bush doesnt come this far south. Ironically, there are no pine trees in the West Coast National Park either, but they seem to have found a tasty alternative.
Beautiful creature, dont you think.
Regards and thanks again, Max
We are very lucky that Bill Oehlke has given us access to the World’s Largest Saturniidae website, though we cannot link to it since it is a member’s only website. It is a lovely caterpillar.
Letter 8 – Silver Emperor
unidentified Mexican butterfly Jan. 2010
January 24, 2010
Thank you for the ID of the Many Banded Daggerwing. This smaller, orange, black and white beauty was in the same area on the Mexican Yucatan peninsula. I am hoping you can tell me more.
Mexico Yucatan area
Hi again fparker,
Before we clicked and enlarged your photo, we thought it might be a California Sister, but clearly it is not, nor is it a Lorquin’s Admiral which it also resembles. Your butterfly is a Silver Emperor, Doxocopa laure, and we believe it is a male, though your photo does not show the bright blue irridescence when the light strikes the wings at the correct angle. The North American Butterfly Association of North Texas has a nice page on this species. According to BugGuide, the species is “Sexually dimorphic upperwing patterns. Females have a diagonal white slash across both wings, and a yellow spot near the forewing apex; extremely similar to female Pavon Emperor but this species has a broader white stripe with a rounded tip. Male has a stripe across its upperwings but is white only on hindwings, turns yellow on forwings. Underwing pattern is similar to upperwing but less distinct and with a grayish or silvery cast overall.” BugGuide also indicates: “Adults visit rotting and overripe fruit, sap, animal dung, and carrion. Larvae feed on foliage of hackberries and sugarberries.” Thanks for contributing another new species to our website.
Letter 9 – Another Damaged Emperor Butterfly: Is a bird the culpret???
Subject: ”Deja Vu All Over Again” – Yogi Berra
Location: Coryell County
October 5, 2013 7:09 pm
I couldn’t believe it. I returned to the neighbors’ red-tip photinia hedge today to see if yesterday’s damaged Emperor butterfly was still there. No, it was gone… but a second damaged butterfly had taken its place. I think this one might be a different kind of Emperor, perhaps a Hackberry Emperor? (The neighbors have a hackberry tree about 20 feet from this shrub.)
A cool front blew in today, and this butterfly was sheltering from the north wind. It never fanned its wings or moved while I was there.
While I took a few photos, the mockingbird was singing again from the shrubbery, just yards away. Hmmm…
Frankly, I’m a little weirded out by it all, and I’m not going to check the shrubbery tomorrow.
Thank you for all of your help identifying the various insect and for providing so much insight into their behavior.
Hi again Ellen,
Thank you for sending further documentation that the eyespots on the wings of the Emperor Butterflies might help to save them from bird attacks.
Letter 10 – Banded Emperor Moth from Zimbabwe
Subject: What kind of moth(?) is this?
Geographic location of the bug: Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe
Time: 03:37 AM EDT
Your letter to the bugman: I found this little guy as I was leaving Vic Falls and am trying to figure out of it is in fact a moth and what kind of moth it is? I saw him in January of this year – so Summer.
How you want your letter signed: Murray
This is a Giant Silkmoth in the family Saturniidae, and thanks to searching the private World’s Largest Saturniidae site, we have concluded that your individual is one of two species in the genus Cinabra, and we are favoring the Banded Emperor, Cinabra hyperbius. The species is pictured on African Moths, on Bizland and on iNaturalist. We will attempt to verify with Bill Oehlke.
Letter 11 – Continuing Metamorphosis of Emperor Moth Caterpillars from Nigeria
Subject: what is our caterpillar?
Location: Lagos Nigeria
Update: October 14, 2016
Update on Emperor caterpillars week 2
Metamorphosis of Emperor caterpillars
When should I transfer to butterfly house?
We are not certain what your butterfly house is. These pupae of an Emperor Moth from the genus Bunaea should be kept in moist, not damp soil until they emerge. That may take a few weeks. They should be kept so that they can crawl up after metamorphosis so that their wings can expand.
Update: October 18, 2016
Pupae transferred to butterfly house on moist soil.
Every so often one end moves. Is this a mechanism to warn off predators? What if they don’t move ?
Hi again Chi,
Thanks for keeping us updated on the metamorphosis of your Emperor Moth Caterpillars. Pupae are able to wriggle their abdomens, and some species are more mobile than others. We imagine they also go through periods when they move more. We would not worry if they seem more stationary.
Letter 12 – Emperor Caterpillars from Nigeria
Subject: what is our caterpillar?
Location: Lagos Nigeria
October 7, 2016 1:01 am
Greetings from Lagos nigeria!
This morning we found many of these wonderful creatures that fell from our tree.
I am going to pop them in my butterfly house so the children can see the life cycle.
We would love to know what we have.
African Emperor or Bunaea Alcinoe aka African Moth
Are they safe?
The spines look sharp
These are definitely Emperor Caterpillars from the genus Bunaea. Please send additional images to document the metamorphosis if you can.
I will do.
They are going in the butterfly house tomorrow.
Update: October 14, 2016
Update on Emperor caterpillars week 2
Metamorphosis of Emperor caterpillars
When should I transfer to butterfly house?
We are not certain what your butterfly house is. These pupae should be kept in moist, not damp soil until they emerge. That may take a few weeks. They should be kept so that they can crawl up after metamorphosis so that their wings can expand.
Letter 13 – Hackberry Emperor Caterpillar
Here are some photos of a very small and strange looking caterpillar we have in our backyard. It has a large and noble head with the two horns. It looks like nothing else on your neat site. The caterpillar spent the night evidently going around in circles on the top of a bucket. When I placed it on a plant it inched off. Tried a striped ivy and now he is climbing a hackberry. Does it look familiar to you? Thanks so much.
Randy and Jan
San Antonio, Texas
Hi Randy and Jan,
If this is not a Hackberry Emperor Caterpillar, Asterocampa celtis, then it is one of the other Emperors in the same genus.
Letter 14 – Swallowtailed Emperor Caterpillar from Australia
Polyura sempronius the swallowtailed Emperor
Been through all your caterpillar pages and thought you might like this guy from Queensland, Australia. This is the Polyura sempronius, the swallowtailed Emperor. Caterpillar is about 2 inches long and apparently this is the fully mature stage. Hope you like it.
That is one amazing looking caterpillar. We did additional research and located a website that pictures the life cycle of this Brush Footed Butterfly. The caterpillar food plants include species of Acacia known at Wattles.
Letter 15 – Tawny Emperor Caterpillar, we believe
strange caterpillar in Waxahachie, Texas
Location: Waxahachie, Texas
May 1, 2011 10:15 am
I saw this strange caterpillar crawling on a bench in Waxahachie, Texas. It looked like it had a face of a cartoon frog with eyes. My son commented that it had ”eye antennas”. It looked a little like a Chinese dragon as well. What is this thing?
Signature: Stacey R.
This caterpillar with metamorphose into one of the Emperor Butterflies in the genus Asterocampa. We believe, based on this image from BugGuide, that your caterpillar is a Tawny Emperor Caterpillar, Asterocampa clyton, though the other members of the genus have similar looking caterpillars.
Thanks, you are amazing!
Letter 16 – Emperor Caterpillar
Subject: Caterpillar ID?
Geographic location of the bug: Indianapolis
Time: 08:19 PM EDT
Your letter to the bugman: Found this caterpillar and can’t figure out the type! Small, like the width of a thumb. Strange head. Thanks for the help! Found on a recently fallen oak tree, still with live leaves.
How you want your letter signed: Ryan
This is an Emperor Caterpillar in the genus Asterocampa and here is a BugGuide image for reference. We don’t believe they feed on oak. Is there a hackberry shrub near where the oak fell?
Letter 17 – Western Marbled Emperor Caterpillar, we believe, from Kenya
Subject: Kenyan caterpillar
Location: Southern Kenya, East Africa
December 29, 2013 4:26 am
Would you be able to identify this caterpillar ? It was found by my sister in southern Kenya a day or so ago. It is currently the wet season. The habitat is scrubby bush with acacia. I am waiting to hear if she knows what it was feeding on.
Any help would be appreciated.
We used the World’s Largest Saturniidae Site and your caterpillar looks to us like that of the Western Marbled Emperor Moth, Heniocha dyops. We then conducted a web search and found a very similar looking caterpillar posted to ISpot that is tentatively identified as that of the Southern Marbled Emperor, Heniocha apollonia, following a robust discussion on the message board that cited a comment Kirby Wolfe made in regards to a photo of a Southern Marbled Emperor Moth from South Africa posted to our site. The discussion also mentioned that there are at least five species in the genus found in Africa, and members of the same genus often exhibit morphological similarities, so we are confident that the genus is correct. Since the Western Marbled Emperor Moth is the only member of the genus verified from Kenya, according to the World’s Largest Saturniidae site, we believe that to be the correct species identification for your caterpillar. African Moths has photos of the adult moth and various Acacia species are listed as food plants. We will check with Bill Oehlke as well as Kirby Wolfe to see if they can verify that identification. We are also going to copy Bill Oehlke on our response and we hope you will grant him permission to use the photos if he wishes to include them on his site.
Comment from Kirby Wolfe
I have reared only Heniocha apollonia whose larva looks much like this one, but as you mention, the other species of Heniocha are very likely to look similar. In fact, there are other species of African saturniids that also have larvae similar to this. It probably feeds on Acacia, as do the others. That’s what the mirror-like “spines” are for, to break up the light so the caterpillar can hide in the sparse, Acacia foliage. Bill Oehlke likely has photos of most of the Heniocha species’ caterpillars.
Kirby L. Wolfe
Letter 18 – Marbled Emperor Caterpillar from Namibia
Location: Northern Namibia
January 27, 2014 12:38 am
I need the name of this caterpillar. They are feeding mainly on Accia meliffera .
Signature: Duane Rudman
This is either a Western Marbled Emperor, Heniocha dyops, or a closely related species. We will try checking with Bill Oehlke to verify our identification. According to Kirby Wolfe: “That’s what the mirror-like ‘spines’ are for, to break up the light so the caterpillar can hide in the sparse, Acacia foliage.”
Thank you very much!!!!!
Letter 19 – Marbled Emperor Caterpillar
Subject: green catapillar with hard horns
March 13, 2015 5:25 am
I found a green catapillar with grey hard horn like spike with red edges on the gras in north west RSA. can u please tell me what it is as I cant find it anywhere on the web
This is a Marbled Emperor Caterpillar in the genus Heniocha. There are several African species in the genus and we cannot be certain which you sighted.
Letter 20 – Emperor, but which Emperor?
Subject: A Tawny Emperor, I think
Location: San Antonio, TX
May 20, 2013 7:07 pm
Hi, guys, had a visitor to my patio garden today, and I was able to get a couple of good shots. I think it’s a Tawny Emperor, Asterocampa clyton. But I can’t tell if it’s a Louisa Tawny or a Texas Tawny. I’m leaning toward the Texas Tawny because the colors were pretty subdued. On the other hand, it was pretty sizable, an inch and a half at least. Any way, you haven’t posted a photo of a Tawny in a couple of years, so I thought I’d submit her. Thanks for all you do!!
Signature: Melvis & Laugh
Dear Melvis & Laugh,
Here at What’s That Bug? we tend to be generalists more the specificists, so we are not certain that we can correctly identify your Emperor to the species level. We will leave that for the Lepidopterists among our readership. We did consider your comment that the colors were pretty subdued” so we attempted to correct the situation. The wall appeared green to us so we neutralized it which added some warmth to the Emperor’s wings. We do believe it resembles this particular Tawny Emperor on BugGuide.
Think you’re right, Daniel. Missed that one. Thanks for taking the time to look! Hope we have more to send you soon!
Letter 21 – Emperor Butterfly may have survived a bird attack thanks to protective mimicry
Subject: Perhaps a Tawny Emperor Butterfly?
Location: Coryell County, Texas
October 4, 2013 4:59 pm
Hello, this damaged butterfly enjoyed the damp food it found on this red-tip photinia today. It stayed for the longest time. I think it may be an emperor butterfly, perhaps a Tawny Emperor?
This is definitely an Emperor, but we cannot say for certain which species. We are much more intrigued with the wing damage than we are with the exact species. The shape and symmetry of the wing damage has caused us to speculate that this Emperor survived the attack of a bird. The eyespots on the wings may have confused a predator that took a chunk from the wings after having mistaken the rear end of the butterfly for its head. This looks like an excellent example of protective mimicry in action.
Letter 22 – Emperor Moth from Botswana
Location: Gaborone, Botswana
March 4, 2014 1:27 am
I photographed this moth in Gaborone, Botswana. First time to see it. Please help with ID.
This is an Emperor Moth in the genus Heniocha, and according to African Moths as well as the World’s Largest Saturniidae site, Heniocha dyops, the Marbled Emperor, is found in Botswana. We will contact Bill Oehlke to see if he can verify our identification as there are several moths in the same genus that look quite similar. We have an image of Heniocha marnois from South Africa in our archives. Bill might also want to post your image to his own comprehensive website.
Bill Oehlke Responds
It is a good match for Heniocha dyops, better than for any of the other current Heniocha species. The marginal area has more grey in it than I have seen before in any Heniocha species, so I cannot guarantee that the population in Botswana is a species as yet undescribed, but I think more likely it is just a variant of dyops.
I will post it on the dyops page and see how it fits.
Thanks for thinking of me.
Letter 23 – Emperor Moth Caterpillar from Sierra Leone
Subject: Caterpillar ID
Location: Daru , Sierra Leone
August 5, 2014 5:13 am
I think this is an Emperor Moth Caterpillar …can you confirm that for me>?
Signature: Don Thomson
First we apologize for not responding to your initial request. We opened the attached file and knew we needed to do some research, and then we forgot to get back to it. Emperor Moth Caterpillar is a somewhat generic name for caterpillars from the family Saturniidae, the Giant Silkmoths. We did some research on the members only World’s Largest Saturniidae site, which breaks out sightings according to countries. Interestingly, Sierra Leone and its neighbors Liberia and Guinea are not represented on the site. We did find an image that matches your caterpillar and it is identified as a “Bunaea alcinoe larva (red form), Ghana” and we are satisfied with that. That species is represented on our site under the common name Cabbage Emperor Moth Caterpillar, and we only have the typical black form. The caterpillars are edible and the common name Emperor Moth is used for this species as well. We are going to contact Bill Oehlke to see if he can verify that identification. Do you have a higher resolution image?
I don’t have a higher resolution image but will try find another one to photograph.
Any further info would be appreciated
Thanks and regards
Bill Oehlke confirms identification
It appears to be B. alcinoe, the red form, but interestingly it has two sets
of black horns near head instead of the single row mentioned by Oberprieler.
I suspect alcinoe is also in Guinea and Liberia.
Please find out from photographer if I can have permission to post image. I
would also need photographer’s name.
Letter 24 – Emperor Moth Caterpillar from South Africa: Nudaurelia wahlbergi
Geographic location of the bug: Howick kzn
Time: 08:50 AM EDT
Your letter to the bugman: Attached are two pics. The one of a little creature which seems to be invading the garden at the moment …. looks like a kind of shongulolo (spell) because it curls ina little ball and poos on your hand …. we are not killing them but just interested where they might be coming from and what they are? Second pic of a caterpillar we found walking the dogs… was under a plane tree and unfortunately many of them had been squashed in the road… quite sad … such lovely colors but wandering which butterfly\moth they might be… thanks very much xxxx
How you want your letter signed: Elizabeth
Letter 25 – Emperor Moth from Swaziland
Subject: Moth identification
Location: Swaziland, Africa.
June 7, 2017 1:10 pm
Hello, My wife and I came across this amazing moth trapped inside a restroom in Swaziland, Africa on February 20th, 2015. Can you identify the moth for me?
Thank you so much.
We believe thanks to images posted to iSpot, that we have correctly identified your gorgeous male Emperor Moth as Imbrasia belina. On African Moths, the species is identified as Gonimbrasia belina. The edible caterpillar is known as the Mopane Worm.
Letter 26 – Golden Emperor Moth from India
Subject: A silk moth of sorts?
Location: Jungle near. Lonawala, Maharashtra, Indian
September 22, 2016 1:43 pm
I took these photos at night in late monsoon season in the Western Ghats of. India near Lonawala. It was the second or third time I had seen this fantastic moth but not on consecutive seasons. The colour is not touched up and in the day was still a stunning brilliant yellow colour, like a classic deep daffodil yellow!
This spectacular moth is a Golden Emperor Moth, Loepa katinka, a species we identified on Global Biodiversity Information Facility. The Golden Emperor Moth is also pictured on Project Noah.
Many thanks for identifying this moth. Yes, spectacular, isn’t it! Golden Emperor suits it to a ‘T’. And found also in Taiwan, which makes me wonder if it is not an import to India.
Letter 27 – Marbled Emperor from South Africa
Location: kwazulu natal midlands, south africa
November 24, 2011 4:54 am
Please could you identify – I have been told perhaps a Southern Marbled Emperor, although the markings are slightly different to the photos already on your site (eg. no grey line through head). We live in natural grassland in Kwazulu Natal Midlands, South Africa. We see loads of these on our outside house walls in the summer. Size 10 – 15cms wingspan.
Signature: don’t mind
Dear don’t mind.
The reason your moth looks so similar to the Southern Marbled Emperor already posted on our site is that it is in the same genus. We believe your moth is the Marbled Emperor, Heniocha dyops, which is pictured on the African Moths website.
Bill Oehlke confirms correction submitted in comment by Ryan
Ed. Note: We found a couple of links with images of Heniocha marnois, including National Geographic. Interestingly, though the scientific name is different, the common name Marbled Emperor is the same for multiple species in the genus. The Saturniidae of the World website has photos of mounted specimens.
Letter 28 – Pallid Emperor Moth from South Africa
Subject: Giant silk moth
Geographic location of the bug: Sabie, Mpumalanga, South Africa
Time: 02:33 PM EDT
Your letter to the bugman: Saw this moth at a take out drive through in a small town called Sabie in the the province Mpumalanga in South Africa. Eastern part of the country. Google image search did not yield much information
How you want your letter signed: Shirley
This is indeed a Giant Silk Moth in the family Saturniidae, and we believe we have correctly identified it as Cirina forda thanks to images posted online on African Moths and on iNaturalist where it is called a Pallid Emperor Moth.
Letter 29 – Small Emperor Moth from Austria
Subject: What magical creature is this?
Location: Middle of Austria
March 24, 2017 5:18 am
Hi Daniel! I found this beautiful moth today on the tiles of an underground passageway at the local train station (middle of Austria). The temperature was in the 40s, so the moth was pretty sluggish. I rescued it from being stepped on and spent a good 5-10 minutes communing with it before I put it on a tree. What really impressed me was the range of colors, and the fact that the “eyes” look like they were done with silver cloisonne. Can you tell me what this magical creature is?
Signature: N. Fritz
Dear N. Fritz,
A catchy subject line is always the best way to get our attention and to stand out from much of the chaff we receive, and your “magical creature” reference immediately caught our attention. This is a female Emperor Moth in the genus Saturnia. It might be Saturnia pavonia, a species pictured on Moths of Europe where it states: “Female Emperor moths possess an organ at the tip of their abdomen from which they disseminate pheromones to attract the day-flying males. A single freshly emerged female can attract as many as 70 males, which can detect the pheromones from distances of a kilometre or more away, using their strongly pectinated antennae as “radar” to home in on the female. The females are heavily laden with eggs so are unable to fly very far, and after mating lay most of their eggs very near the spot where they emerge. After laying 100 or so eggs they have lightened their load sufficiently to enable them to fly, but unlike the males they fly by night. It takes them about 2-3 days to complete egg laying. Neither sex has a proboscis, so the moths are unable to feed, and only live until their body fats are exhausted – i.e. about 4 or 5 days.” The Saturniidae of the Western Palaearctic also has information on the Small Peacock Moth. A similar looking larger species found in Europe is the Giant Peacock Moth, Saturnia pyri, which is pictured on Saturniidae of the Western Palaearctic where it states: “Most adults emerge in the late morning, with females calling that same night, often from the base of trees up which they have climbed. Pairing takes place just before midnight and lasts for about 22 hours. After separation, the male flies off in search of another mate. If possible, the female climbs to the highest vantage point possible before launching herself clumsily towards the nearest shadow on the horizon which, often as not, is a tree. The reason for this strange behaviour is that most females carry too many eggs at first and are ‘bottom-heavy’. This stop-start process continues until about 30 eggs have been deposited, usually in chains of five to eight on the trees’ branches or trunk. The rest of the eggs are laid on the leaves and twigs of suitable hosts.” We will try to get exact species confirmation from Bill Oehlke. Meanwhile, since you rescued this magical creature from stomping feet in the station and put her on a tree where she may attract a mate, we are tagging this posting with the Bug Humanitarian Award.
I’m honored to be a bug humanitarian! Somehow I intuitively knew to put this beauty on a tree. Thanks for posting the pix to What’s That Bug? and for enlightening me on the mating habits of emperor moths!
Letter 30 – Speckled Emperor from South Africa
Subject: Large moth
Geographic location of the bug: Irene, Pretoria, South Africa
Time: 12:30 AM EDT
Your letter to the bugman: Found this unusually large moth in the house late in summer and managed to get a good photo.
How you want your letter signed: Megan
This gorgeous Moth is a Giant Silkmoth in the family Saturniidae and thanks to African Moths, we have identified it as Gynanisa maja, the Speckled Emperor. The species is also pictured on iNaturalist.