Nyctemera amicus (White, 1841)
Senecio or Magpie or Cineraria Moth
(formerly known as Agagles amicus)
ARCTIINAE ,   ARCTIIDAE ,   NOCTUOIDEA
  
Don Herbison-Evans
(donherbisonevans@outlook.com)
and
Rob de Vos & Stella Crossley

Nyctemera amicus larva
(Photo: copyright of Brett and Marie Smith, Ellura Sanctuary, South Australia)

This caterpillar is hairy and dark blue with orange stripes. It has two prominent hair pencils on the head like a pair of hairy horns.

Nyctemera amicus larva
(Photo: courtesy Merlin Crossley, Melbourne, Victoria)

The caterpillar feeds on plants like:

  • Fireweed Groundsel ( Senecio linearifolius ),
  • Cotton Fireweed ( Senecio quadridentatus ),
  • Cape Ivy ( Senecio mikanioides ),
  • Cinerarias ( Senecio cruentus ), and
  • Groundsel ( Senecio scandens ), all of ASTERACEAE,

    Nyctemera amicus larva
    (Photo: courtesy of Peter Marriott)

    These food plants contain pyrrolizidine alkaloids. These make the caterpillar unpleasant to taste and poisonous to birds which would otherwise attack it.

    Nyctemera amicus
    (Photo: copyright of Brett and Marie Smith, Ellura Sanctuary, South Australia)

    The pupa is formed in a loose cocoon amongst the twigs of the foodplant or in ground debris. The final shed skin of the caterpillar is attached to the end of the pupa.

    Nyctemera amicus
    (Photo: copyright of Rob de Vos)

    The adult moth is black except for a broad fragmented white band across each forewing, and a large white patch near the front margin of each hind wing. The body has alternate black and yellow bands.

    Nyctemera amicus
    (Photo: copyright of Brett and Marie Smith, Ellura Sanctuary, South Australia)

    The adult moth is superficially similar to that of Nyctemera secundiana, but can be distinguished by the shape of the fascia on the forewings, the colour of the white pattern, the shape of the white disc on the hindwings, and the black pattern on the abdomen. Furthermore N. amicus has wings with yellow fringes and a black background colour, while N. secundiana has colourless fringes and the ground colour of the wings is dark brown.

    Nyctemera amicus
    (Photo: courtesy of Bruce Anstee, Riverstone, Sydney)

    The species is found over most of Australia, including,

  • Queensland,
  • New South Wales,
  • Australian Capital Territory,
  • Victoria,
  • Tasmania,
  • South Australia, and
  • Western Australia.

    Nyctemera amicus
    (Photo: copyright of Brett and Marie Smith, Ellura Sanctuary, South Australia)

    The moth is frequently seen flying during the day. Its parasitoids have been studied by Dr. Tony Clarke of the University of Tasmania.

    Nyctemera amicus
    (Photo: copyright of Brett and Marie Smith, Ellura Sanctuary, South Australia)


    Further reading :

    Ian F.B. Common,
    Moths of Australia,
    Melbourne University Press, 1990, Fig. 43.17, p. 434.

    David Carter,
    Butterflies and Moths,
    Collins Eyewitness Handbooks, Sydney 1992, p. 281.

    Peter Marriott,
    Moths of Victoria - Part 2,
    Tiger Moths and Allies - NOCTUOIDEA (A)
    ,
    Entomological Society of Victoria, 2009, pp. 28-29.

    Adam White,
    Appendix F (Insects),
    in George Grey :
    Journals of Two Expeditions of Discovery in North-West and Western Australia, during the years 1837-39,
    Volume 2 (1841), p. 482 (last page!).


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    (updated 28 January 2013, 26 December 2014, 15 March 2015)