Gum tree caterpillars

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  • #58436

    Mr Buckingham

    Hello there,
    As a kid I remember seeing the giant gum tree caterpillars which are fascinating and incredible creatures. I am sad that I have not seen any since. They seem to have gone extinct from any of the gum trees I come across.
    Would anyone happen to know where I could get eggs or specimens to be able to bring these beautiful creatures back to life again around our home?
    Any help would be much appreciated!
    Matt 🙂

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  • #58574


    Nigel – I think you’re in Whangarei? The school at Maunu (I think) used to raise these moths some 30-40 years ago – must have had an interested teacher there at the time, I guess.



    I last reared this interesting species (Gum Emperor Moth) as a kid in Tawa, north of Wellington. (I’m now 76!). At that time, the main population was around Whanganui, but it clearly spread gradually, as I’ve seen the cocoons on a pepper tree just out of Hamilton, & on a gum tree south of Auckland. Despite looking on gum trees in places (in Auckland) where there used to be populations, I’ve not succeeded in finding any evidence of them in recent years.

    Can anyone throw more light on the reasons for the apparent decline in the population? It would seem an unnecessarily hysterical reaction if biological controls have been introduced to protect eucalyptus plantations as the moths do not fly far & are unlikely to be present in such large numbers that the larvae became a severe pest. Is there more specific information about how any biological control works & is spread?

    As far as the life cycle goes, my experience was that eggs are laid around Nov/Dec, & the larva feed during the summer, pupating Feb/Mar. The moths emerge Oct/Nov. I had not known of them taking more than 8 or 9 months to mature in the cocoon.

    I’d be most interested to know if or where any populations continue to exist…



    They don’t take a year to pupate, but they can take several years for the moth to emerge from the cocoon. If the conditions are not right, the pupa just remains in a state of suspended animation inside the cocoon. Once emerged, the moth doesn’t feed. It may live a week, but once it has mated and laid eggs it dies. The eggs take about a fortnight to hatch and the caterpillars about two months to grow to about 8 cm before spinning a cocoon. The scratching noise made by an emerging moth is caused by very sharp edges to the base of the wings. A secretion of caustic soda softens the end of the cocoon and the moth cuts its way out. These cocoons don’t have an exit, unlike some other species.


    Mr Buckingham

    Thank you so much Antherina!
    That would be amazing!!
    It sure is a sad thing that they are not around as much as they used to be.
    Such incredible and beautiful creatures 😃



    Years ago we had some too. I was astounded to find that one of them took a year to pupate – & can take longer. We heard scratchy noises one night, & in the morning found that the moth was working its way out



    Eggs seem to be a January event. I may have some then. A nasty virus, that turns the caterlillar into a black dripping mess, has been used as a biokiller for the caterpillars in NZ Eucalyptus forests, so they have become scarce of late. I got some eggs from Wellington and the caterpillars are now pupating, so I will see when they emerge.

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