Epicoma tristis (Donovan, 1805)
Dark Epicoma
(previously known as : Marane tristis)
THAUMETOPOEINAE,   NOTODONTIDAE,   NOCTUOIDEA
 
Don Herbison-Evans
(donherbisonevans@yahoo.com)
and
Stella Crossley

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

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

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
    (Photo: courtesy of David Fischer, Wedderburn, New South Wales)

    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. Each forewing has an irregular dark area, usually with a yellow dot in the middle. The males often have a wavy dark transverse band which, at its middle, touches or traverses the dark area.

    Epicoma tristis
    pale male
    (Photo: courtesy of CSIRO/BIO Photography Group, Centre for Biodiversity Genomics, University of Guelph)

    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 females have slightly feathery antennae, and a wingspan of about 4 cms. The males have very feathery antennae, and a wingspan of about 3 cms.

    Epicoma tristis
    pale female
    (Photo: courtesy of CSIRO/BIO Photography Group, Centre for Biodiversity Genomics, University of Guelph)

    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
    display behaviour

    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.

    The moths of this species are difficult to distinguish from those of Epicoma contristis. However the caterpillars are easily distinguished as the caterpillars of Epicoma contristis have no prominent white hairs.

    Epicoma tristis
    male
    Epicoma tristis
    male underside
       
    Epicoma tristis
    female
    Epicoma tristis
    female underside
    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 species occurs in

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


    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.


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    (updated 12 May 2013, 17 December 2017, 14 March 2022)