Marvellous moths of South Africa

Posted on: August 11, 2022, in Blog

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Moth week is celebrated each year in the US at the end of July. In South Africa, we have some spectacular moths. Not only spectacular in size, but in a variety of colours as well. 

Moths often don’t get the love they deserve, but they’re fascinating and important creatures. Not only do they serve as food for many animals, including bats and birds, but they also pollinate plants. Moths are incredibly diverse — some have striking colors, while others are more subdued.

We had a look at some of the beautiful moths you can encounter in South Africa.

Heady Maiden (Amatara cerbera)

The Heady Maiden, Amata Cerbera, is a day flying moth, although it looks amazingly unmothlike. They feed on the nectar of flowers with male and female looking the same. They communicate with chemical signals and although they have bright colours they fall prey to chameleons and birds.

Distribution: Sub-Saharan countries including South Africa


Pine Emperor Moth (Nudaurelia cytherea)

The Pine Emperor Moth is one of the largest moths in Southern Africa, but it is the caterpillars that are especially impressive. Reaching some 10-12cm in length and almost 2cm in diameter, they are covered with a myriad of colourful spots that look like lights on a Christmas decoration. On account of this they are sometimes referred to as Christmas Caterpillars. They are a serious pest of pine plantations, defoliating trees with their voracious appetites. For the native fynbos though, this is great news as pine trees often escape and invade.

Distribution: Native to  South Africa


Vine Hawk Moth (Hippotion celerio)

Hippotion celerio, also known as the “vine-hawk moth” or “silver-lined hawk moth” is a peculiar little hawk moth originating from Africa and Asia. They have excellent flight capabilities and are often found migrating to parts of Australia and Europe, where they are able to establish populations. This species may be a “pest” in grape fields, for they accept Vitis sp. (Grapevine) as host plant.

Distribution: Africa & Asia


Cherry spot (Diaphone eumela)

Diaphone eumela is a medium-sized, fluffy and vibrant Noctuid Moth. It’s widespread across Africa with recordings in several countries. See them in open habitats comprising diverse vegetation. Like its close relative, the Amaryllis Borer, the caterpillars feed almost exclusively on lilies.

Distribution: Lesotho, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa and Angola.


African death’s-head hawkmoth (Acherontia atropos)

You might already be familiar with the death’s-head hawkmoth, thanks to “Silence of the Lambs.” This was the moth that Buffalo Bill used as his calling card. These moths use chemical camouflage to mimic the scent of bees and enter hives undetected. They use their sturdy mouthparts to pierce the wax cells and eat honey. They also produce a unique squeaking noise as a defense mechanism.

Distribution: Europe and Africa


Moths can be  a major agricultural and household pest. They feed on a very wide range of materials, including wool, fabric, felt, hair, fur and feathers. Moths can damage stored products such as cereals, nuts and herbs by laying their eggs in the stored food.

If you have a moth pest problem, it is best to Call Service Master for an inspection and to advise and administer the best treatment. 

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