Epicoma tristis (Donovan, 1805)
Dark Epicoma
(previously known as : Marane tristis)
Don Herbison-Evans
Stella Crossley

Epicoma tristis
(Photo: by David Carter, Natural History Museum, London,
courtesy of Denys Long, East Sussex)

The early instars of this Caterpillar are gregarious, feeding by day. Later instars are solitary. They occasionally may be seen in procession, each following the silken thread left by the one in front.

Epicoma tristis
(Photo: courtesy of Merlin Crossley, Melbourne, Victoria)

The caterpillar is dark grey and hairy. Its head capsule is white with red sides bordered with black. The true legs are red and the prolegs are orange. There is also an orange lateral line along each side, with a row of orange spots above it. The body is speckled with yellow dots. A pair of long white hairs project diagonally forward from the thorax.

The caterpillar feeds on various species in MYRTACEAE, including :

  • Gum Trees ( Eucalyptus ),
  • Tea Tree ( Leptospermum ), and
  • Tick Bush ( Kunzea ).

    The caterpillars grow to a length of about 3 cms. When the caterpillar is mature, it crawls under the soil to pupate. In Melbourne, the adult moths emerge about four weeks later.

    Epicoma tristis
    Epicoma tristis
    Epicoma tristis
    Epicoma tristis
    drawings by Edward Donovan, listed as Bombyx tristis
    An Epitome of the Natural History of the Insects
    of New Holland, New Zealand, New Guinea, Otaheite and other Islands in the Indian, Southern and Pacific Oceans,
    General Illustration of Entomology, Volume 1 (1805), Plate p. 154,
    courtesy of Göttinger Digitalisierungszentrum.

    The adult moths have forewings that are vary from dark grey through brown to white, speckled with silver. Each wing has a row of orange spots along the termen, and a subterminal row of cream spots. The central area of each forewing has large irregular dark spot with a yellow dot in the middle. The hindwings are dark brown with similar borders to those of the forewings. The abdomen is black with orange dorsal spots and an orange anal tuft. The males often have a brown diagonal stripe across each forewing. The males have a wingspan of about 3 cms. The females have a wingspan of about 4 cms.

    Epicoma tristis
    display behaviour

    When the moth is threatened, it is inclined to lie down and look dead, with its wings lifted high and the abdomen curved under, displaying this orange tuft.

    Epicoma tristis
    mating pair
    (Photo: courtesy of Bruce Anstee, Riverstone, New South Wales)

    The caterpillars of this species are difficult to distinguish from those of Epicoma melanospila. However on rearing them through, the adult moths are easily distinguished.

    (Specimen: courtesy of the Macleay Museum, University of Sydney)

    The species occurs in

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

    Further reading :

    Edward Donovan,
    General Illustration of Entomology,
    An Epitome of the Natural History of the Insects of New Holland, New Zealand, New Guinea, Otaheite and other Islands in the Indian, Southern and Pacific Oceans,
    London (1803), Part 1, p. 155, and also Plate on p. 154.

    Peter Marriott,
    Moths of Victoria - Part 2,
    Tiger Moths and Allies - NOCTUOIDEA (A)
    Entomological Society of Victoria, 2009, pp. 10-11.

    Australian Butterflies
    Australian Moths

    (updated 12 May 2013, 15 December 2015)