Painted Apple Moth

Teia anartoides

Painted Apple Moth

Painted Apple Moth

Legal Status: Notifiable Organism
Status in New Zealand: Eradicated
Organism: Insects, worms and other land invertebrates

Images at right: male (above) and female (below) Painted Apple Moth.
Walker, K. (2007) - PaDIL (www.padil.gov.au (offsite link to www.padil.gov.au)).

This pest is not in New Zealand

Report sightings to MPI’s exotic pest and disease hotline ph 0800 80 99 66.

General information

The painted apple moth (Teia anartoides) is a voracious and indiscriminate feeder. This moth from South Australia defoliates plants by eating their leaves, which makes it a threat to forestry, horticulture and indigenous trees.

There are five stages in the painted apple moth life cycle (egg mass, larvae, pre-pupae, pupae (cocoon), and adult moths) and the pest looks quite different at each stage.

Adult male moths have a 2 cm wing span, with dark brown and patterned forewings, and orange and black hind wings. Whereas, the wingless female is 1 cm long, with a fat, dull-brown body.

The most distinctive stage of the painted apple moth is the larva (caterpillar) stage, which is brightly coloured and easily recognised by the tufts of hair on its back (see picture below). Native caterpillars are not hairy like the painted apple moth. Another pest species, the Gum Leaf Skeletoniser (offsite link to www.biosecurity.govt.nz) is well established in the Auckland area and is often mistaken for the painted apple moth caterpillar.

Take care if handling painted apple moth caterpillars as the stinging hairs can cause irritation, and allergic reactions in some people if they come in contact with skin.

brightly coloured caterpillar with tufts of hair on its back

Painted apple moth caterpillar. Walker, K. (2007) - PaDIL (www.padil.gov.au (offsite link to www.padil.gov.au)).

The eggs are laid by the female on the cocoon after fertilization and are grey in colour (see image below).

cluster of grey eggs on fuzzy light brown cocoon

Painted apple moth eggs on a female cocoon. Walker, K. (2007) - PaDIL (www.padil.gov.au (offsite link to www.padil.gov.au)).

Frequently Asked Questions

How could they reach New Zealand?

Specific entry pathways for painted apple moths are uncertain, though it is known to hitchhike on shipping containers and this how it is likely to have reached New Zealand in the past.

What damage could they cause?

This pest poses a serious threat to New Zealand gardens, crops, forests, native bush, and the communities that depend on them.

In Australia, the painted apple moth is a common pest of urban garden plants and infests trees on public land. In New Zealand, the painted apple moth was demonstrated to not only feed on exotic forest species but also several native trees (see the Painted Apple Moth host list (offsite link to www.biosecurity.govt.nz) for more details). In addition, the painted apple moth has the potential to devastate crop plant species.

Some people may also be allergic to the urticacious (stinging) hairs on the caterpillars. A small number of people who come into contact with painted apple moth larvae suffer negative reactions, such as skin rashes and respiratory problems. Symptoms are generally mild, but hospitalisation and fatality can occur in extreme cases from repeated exposure.

If the painted apple moth were to become widespread in New Zealand, the economic cost to the country has been estimated to be $350 million over 20 years.

How could they spread?

Natural dispersal of painted apple moth is relatively slow. This species spreads by caterpillars ballooning on silken threads over short distances.

However, inadvertent, human-assisted dispersal of the painted apple moth could spread this species throughout New Zealand.

Previous sightings

The painted apple moth was first detected in New Zealand in 1983, when a small number of live pupae were found in Dunedin. These pupae were on packaging material recently imported from Australia. The pupae were removed and there was no evidence of an established population.

In 1994, an adult male moth was detected at the New Zealand border on the exterior of a sea container.

In 1999, established populations of painted apple moths were discovered in West Auckland and were aerially treated with a biological insecticide between 1999 and 2003. This species was then declared eradicated in 2006.

Following eradication, two individual moths were found in other parts of Auckland between 2006 and 2008. These were likely to have been new arrivals as there was no evidence of any established populations.

Useful Resources

Page last updated: 11 June 2014