Alcides metaurus (Hopffer, 1856)
Zodiac Moth
(also known as Nyctalemon zodiaca Butler, 1869)
Don Herbison-Evans
Mark Jacobson & Stella Crossley

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

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, Queensland)

    The caterpillars feed on various plants from the family EUPHORBIACEAE :

  • Whitewood ( Endospermum medullosum ),
  • Toywood ( Endospermum myrmecophilum ),
  • Papua Vine ( Omphalea papuana ),
  • Tanetahi ( 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, Queensland)

    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 yellowish green and pink. The moths have a wingspan of about 10 cms.

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

    Underneath: the moths are pale green with curving black bands. The underside of the abdomen is red.

    The species occurs in

  • Northern Territory, and
  • Queensland.

    Alcides metaurus
    (Photo: courtesy of Buck Richardson, Kuranda Queensland)

    The moths 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.

    Alcides metaurus
    mating pair, click to see video

    (Photo and Video: courtesy of Gus Lee, Cairns, Queensland)

    The moths 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,
    Butterflies and Other Invertebrates Club,
    Metamorphosis Australia,
    Issue 57 (June 2010), pp. 1, 4-7.

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

    Carl Heinrich Hopffer,
    Neue Schmetterlinge der Insekten-Sammlung des Königl. Zoologischen Musei der Universität zu Berlin,
    Part 2 (1856), p. 2, No. iii. and Plate 2, figs. 3, 4.

    Buck Richardson,
    Tropical Queensland Wildlife from Dusk to Dawn Science and Art,
    LeapFrogOz, Kuranda, 2015, p. 215.

    Garry Sankowsky,
    Zodiac Moth,
    Zodiac Publications.

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

    Australian Butterflies
    Australian Moths

    (updated 10 November 2010, 27 December 2017)