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Polka-dot Wasp Moth

Syntomeida epilais (Walker, 1854)

Tiger Moth Family Arctiidae


Polka-dot Wasp Moth - Syntomeida epilais (Walker, 1854)
(nectaring on Eupatorium azureum - Asteraceae)

Falcon State Park
Falcon Heights, Starr County, Texas
March 2-3, 2008 (Frances Bartle)

Found by Don DeSteiguer, the moth was present for two days, both of which were excessively windy.


Common throughout the Florida peninsula. Present along the Georgia, South Carolina and Mississippi Coasts.

Grand Bay Nat'l Wildlife Refuge, Jackson Co., Moss Point, Mississippi, 20-IX-2003, STATE RECORD

Charleston Co., James Island, South Carolina, 30-X-2005, STATE RECORD

Per Knudson & Bordelon (2004), "This species is vaguely reported from the [Rio Grande] Valley, but we have not seem an authentic specimen."

Bratley (1932) (and others) reports its range extending from northern South America, through Central America into Mexico, and from many Caribbean islands. Bratley cited Biologia Centrali-Americana as listing collection locations for this moth from northern South America, however the BCA only mentions Mexico and Belize for Syntomeida epilais. Also, significantly, Janzen & Hallwachs' (2005) database for Guanacaste, Costa Rica contains no records for Syntomeida epilais, but has numerous records for Syntomeida melanthus

Flight Period: On the wing all year in Florida.

Similar Species: There are currently eight species in the genus Syntomeida but see Goldstein & Simmons (2005).

Four species of Syntomeida reach the U.S.

Syntomeida ipomoeae (Harris, 1839)
Syntomeida melanthus (Cramer, 1780)
Syntomeida epilais (Walker, 1854)
Syntomeida hampsonii Barnes, 1904

Primary Caterpillar Food Plants

Oleander, Nerium oleander - Family Apocynaceae

The Spanish introduced this Mediterranean ornamental plant in the 17th century

Native host: Devil's-potato, Rubbervine - Echites umbellatus Jacq. - Family Apocynaceae

Range, southeastern coast of Florida


Moths of the oleander caterpillar, unlike most moth species, do not use volatile sex pheromones to locate each other for the purpose of reproduction. In this species, female moths perch on oleander foliage and emit an ultrasonic acoustic signal which, although inaudible to us, attracts male moths from great distances. When male and female moths are within a few meters of each other, they begin a courtship duet of acoustic calls which continues until mating occurs two or three hours before dawn.

The larvae aggregate for some unknown reason and form pupal aggregations covered by a very thin silk cocoon.


Tachinids: Lespesia aletia and Chetogena (=Euphorocera) floridensis and the chalcidid Brachymeria incerta.

Weblink: Oleander caterpillar - Featured Creature, University Florida

Photos: Adult, Adult, Pupa, Larva, Larvae, Larvae

Amazing series of life history photos - Claudine and Pierre Guezennec, Guadeloupe archipelago

Stamp: Syntomeida epilais - Republic of Guinea, 1973

BiographyFrancis Walker (1809 - 1874) - Wikipedia


Bratley, H.E. 1932. The oleander caterpillar, Syntomedia [sic] epilais, Walker. Florida Entomologist 15: 57-64. 

Druce, H. 1884. Biologia Centrali-Americana. Insecta. Lepidoptera-Heterocera. Volume II . R.H. Porter, London. pg. 333.

Goldstein, J.A. & R.B. Simmons. 2005. A morphological revision of the tiger moth genus Syntomeida Harris. (Lepidoptera: Noctuoidea: Arctiidae: Arctiinae: Euchromiini). Poster. ESA Annual Meeting, Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

Janzen, D.H. & W. Hallwachs. 2005. Dynamic database for an inventory of the macrocaterpillar fauna, and its food plants and parasitoids, of Area de Conservacion Guanacaste (ACG), northwestern Costa Rica <http://janzen.sas.upenn.edu>.

Kimball, C.P. 1965. The Lepidoptera of Florida; an annotated checklist. Arthropods of Florida and Neighboring Land Areas, Vol. 1. Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, Division of Plant Industry. v + 363 pp.

Knudson, E. & C. Bordelon. 2004. Illustrated Checklist of the Lepidoptera of the Lower Rio Grande Valley, TX. Vol. 2B : Macro-Moths. Texas Lepidoptera Survey, Houston. xiv + 59 pp. 20 plates.

McAuslane, H.J., & F.D. Bennett. 1995. Parasitoids and predators associated with Syntomeida epilais (Lepidoptera: Arctiidae) on oleander. Florida Entomologist 78: 543-546.

Morales, J.F. 1997. A reevaluation of Echites and Prestonia sect. Coalitae (Apocynaceae). Brittonia, 49(3): 328-336

Rothschild, M., J. von Euw, & T. Reichstein. 1973. Cardiac glycosides (heart poisons) in the polka-dot moth Syntomeida epilais Walk. (Ctenuchidae: Lep.) with some observations on the toxic qualities of Amata (=Syntomis) phegea (L.). Proceedings of the Royal Society of London B 183: 227-247.

Sanderford, M.V. 1992. Acoustic communication of the polka-dot wasp moth, Syntomeida epilais Walker (Lepidoptera, Arctiidae, Ctenuchinae). Ph.D. dissertation, Wake-Forest University, Winston-Salem, NC.

Sanderford, M.V., & W.E. Conner. 1990. Courtship sounds of the polka-dot wasp moth, Syntomeida epilais. Naturwissenschaften 77: 345-347.

Sanderford, M. V. & W. E. Conner. 1995. Acoustic communication in Syntomeida epilais Wlk. (Lepidoptera: Arctiidae, Ctenuchinae). Journal of Insect Behavior, 8(1): 19-31.

Wagner, D.L. 2005. Caterpillars of Eastern North America: A Guide to Identification and Natural History. Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJ. 496 pp., 1,200+ color photos.

Walker, F. 1854. Lepidoptera Heterocera. in: List of the Specimens of Lepidopterous Insects in the Collection of the British Museum. Vol. 1: 1-278

16 Mar 2008   Mike Quinn / mike.quinn@tpwd.state.tx.us / Texas Entomology / Texas Lep Information