Coming face to face with these amazing technicolor caterpillars can be a bit alarming, especially as they are thicker than a cigar and can reach 8 -10cm in length.
Pine emperor moth larvae – also called Christmas caterpillars – feed on proteas, rhus (reclasified as Sersea), and watsonias; and also on pines, often reducing them to bare sticks (bad if you own a pine plantation, good if you are an advocate of pine-culling!).
Their pupas are relished by baboons and porcupines – natural pest controllers who keep up with fynbos patrol but which cannot cope with the scale of introduced pine trees. In the 1930’s herds of pigs were let loose in pine plantations to try to curb the spread of the caterpillar.
After pupating they turn into gigantic moths with a royal wing span of 120mm, often blundering uninvited into the house, attracted, no doubt by the lights.
To read more about the complicated classification of these moths, visit this iSpot link and read the comments! They’ll make your head spin.
Photos: Marianne Alexander. Text: Marianne Alexander, Marie Viljoen