A giant butterfly belonging to the heaviest species of its kind in the world has been discovered at a primary school in South East Queensland.
Builders at Mount Cotton State School discovered the giant wood moth at the construction site of the school’s new classrooms.
School principal Meagan Steward said it was an “incredible find”.
“Our new building is located on the edge of a rainforest and during construction the moth was found,” Ms. Steward told UKTN Radio Brisbane.
“Our staff and students were not surprised by the find as we have a range of animals at Mount Cotton, but this butterfly was definitely not something we had seen before.”
Female butterfly can weigh 30 grams
The giant woodland butterfly, also known as Endoxyla cinereus, belongs to the Cossidae family and only survives a few days to adulthood.
Queensland Museum Entomology Director Dr Christine Lambkin said that in the larval stage, giant wood moth worms were the “real witch larvae” of the traditional First Nations diet.
Dr Lambkin said the moth is the heaviest in the world, with the female weighing up to 30 grams and having a wingspan of up to 25 centimeters.
“They steal very, very badly. In most cases, when they emerge, the females simply crawl up a local tree or stump from a fence post and sit there and wait for the males to find them, ”Dr Lambkin said.
“Males are much smaller – about half the size. What basically happens is that the females don’t feed, they only live a few days into adulthood, they emerge, they mate, they lay eggs, they die.
‘Very rarely seen’
Honorary member of Australia’s National Insect Collection Ted Edwards said that as caterpillars the creatures burrow deep into gum trees and feed on the bark of the tree’s growing tissue.
“They stay like that for two or three years, with a central bore right in the center of the tree, then just before they turn into a chrysalis, they cut out a circle of bark… and build a series of ant defenses and other insects, “he said.
“That’s when they turn into a chrysalis, and then when they come out, they’re very rarely seen.”
He said the butterflies have a total lifespan of about three or four years and the adults cannot eat or drink.
Moth arouses a flair for creative writing
Ms Steward said the builders took a photo of the moth before sending it back to the rainforest, the discovery having inspired students in the school’s creative writing class.
“After viewing the photo, the class thought about what might happen and they decided on a giant butterfly invasion,” he said.
“The students wrote very creative and imaginative writing – including (grade 4 and 5 teacher) Ms. Wilson gets eaten by the giant moth.”