Common Name: The Madagascar Sunset Moth or the Madagascan Sunset Moth
Species Name: Chrysiridia rhipheus
The Madagascar Sunset Moth was first described in 1773 by Dru Dury. Dury thought the insect was a butterfly so it was classified in the genus Papilo. Later in 1823, Jacob Hubner discovered the “butterfly” to be a moth and it was placed in the genus Chrysirida. The moth is regarded as one of the most beautiful lepidopterans due to its brightly colored wings. The moth also has commercial importance. They are actively pursued by collectors worldwide and in the Victorian Era the wings were used to make jewelry. Despite being perused by collectors and jewelry makers, the moth is not threatened or endangered.
Most of the wing is actually unpigmented and covered with many clear scales. The multicolored appearance occurs because of the structural components of the scales and the movement of the wing. Because of the curved shape of the scales, when the wing moves light is reflected and scattered causing the appearance of color. The wing span is about 3.5 inches.
Originally it was thought that the moth’s native habitat was in Bengal or China. Now it is known that the native and only habitat is Madagascar where it is diurnal, meaning active during the day (a unique trait, as most moths are active at night). Because of their daytime activity and the shape and color of their wings, they are sometimes confused with the swallowtail butterfly. The highest number in population occurs in the fall and winter seasons and the lowest number in population occurs in spring. Their only food source is nectar, preferably from white flowers. Selection of their food source indicates that they utilize visual cues. Some plants they obtain nectar from include Terminalia catappa, Camellia sinensis, Eriobotrya japonica , and Eucalyptus spp.
The Madagascar Sunset Moth has four life stages, or instars. The first life stage is the laying of the egg, which is attached to the leaves of the Omphaela species. There are four species of Omphaela native to Madagascar: O. ankaranensis, O. palmata, O. occidentalis, and O. oppositifilia. Females lay about 80 eggs at one time without restriction to a particular season. Eggs are laid later in the day, usually in the late afternoon or at night. In the second life stage, the egg hatches to release a caterpillar. The caterpillar is whitish-yellow with black spots, red feet and black setae. They eat the mesophyl of the Omphaela plant and are able to spin silk that help them attach to the leaves. After a few days, the caterpillars begin eating the whole plant such as the flowers, fruit and stem. The caterpillar stage lasts two to three months. The third stage is the pupal stage where the chrysalis is formed and the pupa is transformed into the adult. The pupal stage lasts between 17-23 days. Lastly is the adult stage, and the moth emerges from the chrysalis.
To defend themselves from predators, the moth is poisonous. The toxins were obtained by eating the leaves of the Omphaela plant as a caterpillar. They are toxic to most predators and their wings serve as a warning sign of their toxicity.
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