Abraxas grossulariata — “Magpie moth”

Abraxas grossulariata, the Magpie Moth, is a small speckled moth that used to be very common in Europe, but has been declining recently. Interestingly, both larvae, pupae and adults share the same colour theme. A fun species to try! They are highly variable, and interesting “abberations” in the colour pattern in captivity may be more frequent due to their variability. Species also occurs in parts of North-America and Asia.

Abraxas grossulariata is fun to rear in larger numbers!abraxas adult large

  • Difficulty rating: Moderate (Overwintering the larvae is hard, but rearing the post-diapause larvae and pairing the adults is extremely easy)
  • Rearing difficulty: 6/10 (From egg to pupa)
  • Pairing difficulty: 4/10 (Archieving copulations)
  • Host plants: Ribes
  • Natural range:  Europe, North America
  • Polyphagous: Yes, but not much
  • Generations: Univoltine (only one generation a year
  • Family: Geometridae (geometer moths)
  • Pupation: Cocoon (silk encasing)
  • Prefered climate: Cold to temperate (high altitude mountain pine forest)
  • Special notes: Larvae are often mass parasitized  in the wild. Pupae, larvae and adults show similar colours
  • Wingspan: 30 – 40mm 
  • Binomial name: Abraxas grossulariata (Linnaeus, 1758)

Berry shrubs, especially Ribes species like gooseberry (Ribes grossularia), and redcurrant (Ribes rubrum) are the main host plant of this moth. Though alternatively, they have also been reported to feed on various Prunus species, like blackthorn (Prunus spinosa). Hawthorn (Crataegus) and willow (Salix) have also been reported, though Ribes sp. is best recommended for breeding.

Larvae, with colours similar than that of the adults

Both larvae and adult are predominantly white, decorated with black dots and patches of yellow. The fact that this Lepidoptera shares the same colour theme in almost all stages of it’s life sets it apart. Adults do not  feed and are short lived, but are very eager to pair. Abraxas grossulariata has only one generation a year – larvae overwinter and develop slowly and  are ready to pupate around late spring/summer. This process may be sped up in captivity, if the larvae are reared on room temperature. Pupae quickly hatch into adults within two weeks.

Pairing of A.grossulariata: 

Copulations are easy to archieve, even in small containers it is easy to breed them. Interestingly, the pupae of this moth are black with bright yellow stripes, which meight be an aposematic display!

Wild populations of this moth appear to be commonly parasitised by small Chalcid wasps, which often caused many losses in my wild-caught livestock.

The unusual colouration of the pupae 

 Caterpillars doing well on Prunus laurocerasus:

More pairings easily archieved in a cage

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Citations: Coppens, B. (2019); Written by Bart Coppens; based on a real life breeding experience [for citations in literature and publications] 

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