Cephonodes kingii (W.S.Macleay, [1826])
Gardenia Bee Hawk
(previously known as Macroglossum kingii)
Don Herbison-Evans,
Stella Crossley

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.

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

The caterpillars later become black, grey, or green, often with black lines across the back. 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.

(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 :

  • Australian Native Myrtle ( Canthium attenuatum ),
  • Coast Canthium ( Canthium coprosmoides ),
  • Perfumed Canthium ( Canthium odoratum ),
  • Wild Lemon ( Canthium oleifolium ),
  • Australian Native Gardenia ( Gardenia ovularis ),
  • Scented Gardenia ( Larsenaikia=Gardenia ochreata ), and
  • Butterfly Bush ( Pavetta australiensis ),

    as well as :

  • Alfalfa ( Lucerne: Medicago sativa, FABACEAE ) and
  • Lemon ( Citrus limon, RUTACEAE ).

    (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.

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

    The caterpillars pupate under the soil. The pupa is naked and dark brown, with a length of about 5 cms.

    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.

    (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.

    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.

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

    The moth has a wingspan of about 4 cms. The moths hover over flowers to feed on nectar, beating their wings so fast that they hum, and are a blur.

    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 0.5 mm.

    egg, magnified

    The species is normally quite rare, but there was a population explosion of the species in 2001 in Sydney which has not yet been repeated.

    The species is found over much of Australia, including

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

    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.

    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,
    Newsletter, 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)