Alcides metaurus (Hopffer, 1856)
Zodiac Moth
(also known as Nyctalemon zodiaca Butler, 1869)
URANIINAE ,   URANIIDAE ,   URANIOIDEA
 
Don Herbison-Evans
(donherbisonevans@outlook.com)
and
Mark Jacobson & Stella Crossley

Alcides metaurus
(Photo: courtesy of Jan MacDonald and Maya Harrison, Mackay)

The Caterpillars of this species go through various stages with varying colours including:

  • green with a black band,
  • black with white bands and a red thorax,
  • red with black bands and orange legs.

    Alcides metaurus
    (Photo: courtesy of Jan MacDonald and Maya Harrison, Mackay)

    The caterpillars feed on various plants from the family EUPHORBIACEAE :

  • Whitewood ( Endospermum medullosum ),
  • Toywood ( Endospermum myrmecophilum ),
  • Papua Vine ( Omphalea papuana ),
  • Day Moth Vine ( Omphalea queenslandiae ), and
  • Secret Vine ( Omphalea celata ).

    These plants contain poisons which appear to protect the Caterpillars from predation, as in other Uraniids.

    Alcides metaurus
    cocoon and pupa
    (Photo: courtesy of Jan MacDonald and Maya Harrison, Mackay)

    The Caterpillars pupate in a sparse cocoon in a crevice or between dead leaves.

    Alcides metaurus

    The adult moths are black with iridescent bands of yellow and pink. The underside is an iridescent pale green with black bands. The moths have a wingspan of about 10 cms.

    Alcides metaurus
    (Specimen: courtesy of the The Australian Museum)

    The species occurs in the tropical north of Australia, in Queensland.

    Alcides metaurus
    underside
    (Specimen: courtesy of the The Australian Museum)

    They fly by day, and feed on the nectar of various flowers. They rest with their wings open and out flat. In January in bright sunlight in the morning hours, the adult moths are common as singles and as mating pairs in light rainforest on both gentle and steep hillsides, in the area west of Cairns. They flutter fairly slowly and range from ground level to the treetops.

    They may be seen at ground level both resting and laying eggs. The eggs are often laid in open groups of two dozen or so, on plants adjacent to rather than on the foodplant. The females moths have also been observed laying their eggs on spiders webs near a foodplant, or dead twigs, or on debris at the foot of a foodplant. This appears to be a response to a defence that some plants have developed against caterpillars. These plants secrete a juice in response to an egg being laid on them. The juice causes mould to grow which kills the egg.


    Further reading :

    David Carter,
    Butterflies and Moths, Collins Eyewitness Handbooks, Sydney 1992, p. 190.

    Ian F.B. Common,
    Moths of Australia, Melbourne University Press, 1990, pl. 12.4, p.384.

    Maya Harrison,
    The Zodiac Moth... A discovery and study,
    Metamorphosis Australia Issue 57 (June 2010), pp. 1, 4-7,
    Butterflies and Other Invertebrates Club.

    Maya Harrison,
    The Zodiac Files...the cycle begins,
    Metamorphosis Australia Issue 60 (March 2011), pp. 17-21,
    Butterflies and Other Invertebrates Club.

    John T. Moss,
    Hostplants of the Zodiac Moth in Australia,
    Metamorphosis Australia Issue 57 (June 2010), pp. 7-9,
    Butterflies and Other Invertebrates Club.

    Garry Sankowsky,
    Unusual egg-laying strategies of some Lepidoptera,
    Metamorphosis Australia Issue 73 (June 2014), pp. 17-21,
    Butterflies and Other Invertebrates Club.

    Paul Zborowski and Ted Edwards,
    A Guide to Australian Moths, CSIRO Publishing, 2007, p. 150.


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    (updated 10 November 2010, 20 June 2014)