Emperor gum moths

As I continue to work through a backlog of photos from the past few years I was pleased to get to a folder of photos of emperor gum moths I took in 2013 (yes, I’m that far behind). Emperor gum moths are probably the most spectacular moth you are likely to find in the wild in NZ. They have a wingspan approaching 6 inches, and four prominent eye spots. A fat furry body and huge feathery antennae on males makes them look like a miniature, super cute soft toy. Emperor gum moths were accidentally introduced to New Zealand, and as the name implies, they are usually associated with gums (Eucalyptus), but I’ve also found them on Liquidamber in the distant past. The caterpillars eat the leaves of these exotic trees, but they don’t seem to be a serious pest.

Emperor gum moth
Adult emperor gum moths (Opodiphthera eucalypti), like this female, don’t feed but may live for a couple of weeks. Her sole purpose is to attract a mate and lay eggs. Taken with a Canon 1D Mark IV, EF100mm f/2.8 Macro USM, 1/300 s at f13, ISO 100, MT24-EX flash.

Although not uncommon, I haven’t seen many emperor gum moths for many years so I was very happy when a female crashed into my window that September evening a few years ago. I carefully placed her on a gum tree branch and made a few photos. Females are easy to tell from males because they have much smaller antennae compared to the huge feathery antennae that males use to detect
the pheromones of females. This was the first female emperor moth I had come across, so I wondered if there might be a chance she could attract a male as well. I had never seen a gum emperor moth at this place over a couple of years, so I thought this female was probably a one-off. Although it seemed like a long shot, I placed her in an sack outside just in case the wind was blowing toward a male somewhere in the darkness. In what seemed like no time at all I had not one, but three male moths fluttering around! A great demonstration of the incredible power of those beautiful chemical detectors that have evolved to do that job so well. Satisfied with the success of my little experiment, I left them all to go about their business.

Emperor gum moth
An adult male emperor gum moth (Opodiphthera eucalypti). Taken with a Canon 1D Mark IV, EF100mm f/2.8 Macro USM, 1/300 s at f10, ISO 100, MT24-EX flash.

More photos in my moths and butterflies gallery.