Cephonodes kingii (W.S.Macleay, [1826])
Gardenia Bee Hawk
(one synonym is Macroglossum kingi Swinhoe, 1892)
Don Herbison-Evans,
Stella Crossley

Cephonodes kingii
early instar
(Photo: courtesy of Tom and David Sleep, Brisbane, Queensland)

These Caterpillars when they first hatch are pale green with a short black tail horn.

Cephonodes kingii
(Photo: courtesy of Bruce Anstee, Riverstone, Sydney, New South Wales)

The caterpillars later become black, grey, or green, often with groups of black and white lines on the sides of each segment. The back of the head and the final claspers are covered in small white warts. The caterpillars have posterior horn shaped like a shallow 'S', and have white spiracles along each side outlined in red. The head colour varies from brown to green.

Cephonodes kingii
(Photo: courtesy of Bruce Anstee, Riverstone, Sydney, New South Wales)

These caterpillars have usually been found feeding on plants in RUBIACEAE, including:

  • Gardenia ( Gardenia jasminoides ),

    but they have also been found on :

  • Coast Canthium ( Canthium coprosmoides ),
  • Perfumed Canthium ( Canthium odoratum ),
  • Australian Native Gardenia ( Gardenia ovularis ),
  • Scented Gardenia ( Larsenaikia ochreata ),
  • Butterfly Bush ( Pavetta australiensis ),
  • Australian Native Myrtle ( Psydrax attenuata ), and
  • Wild Lemon ( Psydrax oleifolia ).

    Cephonodes kingii
    (Photo: courtesy of David Mohn, Chinese Christian Seminary, Hong Kong)

    When threatened, the caterpillars arch back, and regurgitate a green fluid. If the caterpillars are crowded, they may eat each other. The caterpillars grow to a length of about 6 cms.

    pupa: note the discarded caterpillar skin at the tail
    (Photo: courtesy of Jennie Smith, Silverdale, New South Wales)

    The caterpillar pupates under the soil if it is friable, at a depth down to 7 cms. If the ground is hard, it forms a cocoon amongst the ground litter. The pupa dark brown, with a length of about 3.5 cms.

    Cephonodes kingii
    recently emerged adult, still shedding wing scales
    (Photo: courtesy of Catriona Coote, Sydney, New South Wales)

    The adult moths are initially a dirty green colour, but soon lose the scales from the wings, leaving them transparent.

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

    The moths then resemble Bumble Bees, hence the name 'Bee Hawks' for the moths in this genus Cephonodes. The green colour of the thorax fades to brown in older museum specimens.

    Cephonodes kingii
    adult moth hovering
    (Photo : courtesy of Peter Gavin, Penrith, New South Wales)

    The abdomen is yellow with a black band around the first few abdominal segments, and a dark mark on the next segment. There is a black fringe around the tip of the abdomen. The wings are generally transparent except that the forewings each have a broad opaque area near the tip.

    Cephonodes kingii
    (Photo: courtesy of Jonathan and Glynne Wood, Artarmon, New South Wales)

    The moth has a wingspan of about 5 cms. The moths hover over flowers to feed on nectar, beating their wings so fast that they hum, and are a blur.

    Cephonodes kingii
    adult moth hovering and feeding on Rose Periwinkle ( Vinca rosea )
    (Photo : courtesy of Leigh Whisson, Doolgunna Station, near Meekatharra, Western Australia)

    The eggs are pale green, smooth, and oval. They are usually laid singly on the undersides of young leaves. The eggs have a diameter of about 1 mm.

    Cephonodes kingii
    egg, magnified

    The species is normally quite rare, but there was a population explosion of the species in 2001 in Sydney.

    The species is found over much of Australia, including

  • Western Australia,
  • Northern Territory,
  • Queensland,
  • New South Wales,
  • Victoria, and
  • South Australia.

    Further reading :

    David Carter,
    Butterflies and Moths,
    Collins Eyewitness Handbooks, Sydney 1992, p. 242.

    William Sharp Macleay,
    in Philip Parker King :
    Narrative of a Survey of the Intertropical and Western Coasts of Australia,
    Volume 2 (1826), Appendix B, p. 465, No. 167.

    Peter Marriott,
    Moths of Victoria - Part 1,
    Silk Moths and Allies - BOMBYCOIDEA
    Entomological Society of Victoria, 2008, pp. 28-31.

    Maxwell S. Moulds, James P. Tuttle and David A. Lane.
    Hawkmoths of Australia,
    Monographs on Australian Lepidoptera Series, Volume 13 (2020),
    pp. 82-85, Plates 13, 78, 85.

    Buck Richardson,
    Tropical Queensland Wildlife from Dusk to Dawn Science and Art,
    LeapFrogOz, Kuranda, 2015, p. 199.

    Martyn Robinson,
    Cephonodes Summer,
    Butterflies and Other Invertebrates Club,
    Metamorphosisi Australia,
    Issue 21, June 2002.

    Paul Zborowski and Ted Edwards,
    A Guide to Australian Moths,
    CSIRO Publishing, 2007, p. vi.

    Australian Butterflies
    Australian Moths

    (updated 18 February 2012, 26 October 2013, 2 March 2015, 12 October 2017, 24 April 2018, 15 July 2020, 17 February 2021)