Argema mimosae — “African Moon Moth”

Moths come in an incredible variety of shapes and sizes! And while beauty is subjective; most people would agree that few of them are as breathtaking as the African Moon Moth (Argema mimosae). These bright yellow moths with elegant tails on their hindwings can be found in tropical subsaharan Africa.

Argema mimosae / African moon moth male

Argema mimosae is a moth that’s found in tropical subsaharan Africa including South Africa, Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Malawi, Mozambique, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Kenya, Zambia, Uganda, Tanzania – where the moths are seasonally found in tropical rainforest or savannah woodlands.

Argema mimosae caterpillar

The larvae of Argema mimosae have elongated, fleshy tubercules, with a small arrangement of spines and hairs on top of them. They come in two varieties: green and (more rarely) yellow.

They seem somewhat polyphagous and feed on numerous types of shrubs and trees in Africa; including but not limited to Sclerocarya caffra, Sclerocarya birrea, Commiphora mollis, Spirostachys africana, Eucalyptus, Excoecaria africana and more; in captivity (Europe, USA) moth enthousiasts have also managed to raise them on numerous non-native plants such as Liquidambar, Cotinus, Juglans, Rhus, and Euphorbia.

Argema mimosae males

Argema mimosa is also a commercially important species; in Africa, the species is farmed for exportation to butterfly farms, and insect enthousiasts. There’s a chance that if you ever visited a butterfly house, you’ve seen these moths (or their larger cousin from Madagascar; Argema mittrei!). Butterfly farming is a sustainable source of income for the locals in Africa.

 While the flight time of this species may vary locally depending oin the microclimate; generally speaking, the flight season of the moth is from October to March. Reportedly, the species tends to have two generations a year – the second brood diapausing (staying dormant) through the dry season as cocoons. Emergence is probably triggered by the warm monsoon rains during the rainy season.

  • Difficulty rating:  Moderate – rearing the larvae is not super hard, but you do need basic experience. Pairing the moths is more tricky, considering how sporadically they can emerge from cocoons (and in some occassions adults seem to refuse to mate)
  • Rearing difficulty: 6.5/10
  • Pairing difficulty: 8/10
  • Host plants:   Sclerocarya caffra, Sclerocarya birrea, Commiphora mollis, Spirostachys africana, Eucalyptus, Excoecaria africana – in captivity often raised on Liquidambar (Sweetgum), Cotinus (Smoketree), Juglans (Walnut), Rhus (Sumac) , and certain types of Euphorbia (Spurge). Larvae grow well on several plants from the Anacardiaceae family.
  • Natural range:  South Africa, Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Malawi, Mozambique, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Kenya, Zambia, Uganda, Tanzania
  • Polyphagous: Yes, very!
  • Generations:  1-2 broods a year!
  • Family: Saturniidae (silkmoths)
  • Pupation: Cocoon (silk encasing)
  • Prefered climate: Tropical. Warm and humid!
  • Special notes:   High humidity is important for captive rearing. Anacardiaceae host plants recommended.
  • Estimated wingspan: 80mm-125mm (medium sized Saturniid)

If you want to raise Argema mimosae, it is a good idea to choose Anacardiaceae plants (Rhus, Cotinus, maybe even Pistachia) and also, while in a seperate plant family, Liquidambar.

The eggs of this species are pale, near white but with a slight brownish tinge and oval. Around room temperature (21C) caterpillars will hatch from their eggs in about two weeks time. Eggs can be incubated in petri dishes, or closed plastic containers.

Argema mimosae eggs hatching
Argema mimosae hatching

The young caterpillars of Argema mimosae havea peculair look; the segment near their rear end, and the segments near their thorax are bright orange while the segments in the ‘middle’ of their body are black. The first instars can easily be raised in completely airtight plastic boxes.

The secret to succesfully raising the larvae of this species is high humidity! And when possible, also higher temperatures. Remember, this species comes from very hot and humid countries! Personally I try to raise this species in summer whenever possible. It saves the trouble of having to create artificial heating. The larvae feel very comfortable around 25C.

A lot of tropical Saturniidae are easily reared on room temperature (21C); personally I have raised hundreds of silkmoths on room temperature without any issue and without any extra heating. But for Argema mimosae, I would make an exception. I noticed a huge improvement in terms of growth and survival rate when I kept them around 25C. They seem more healthy, bigger, and more comfortable if kept truly hot!

Caterpillars of this species are solitary.

Argema mimosae L2
Argema mimosae L2
Argema mimosae L3
Argema mimosae L3

The second, and third instar are also quite distinct. The second instar is bright red/orange (with no black markings). The third instar is green, with orange setae. They often rest upside down, in a ‘hunched over’ position (reminiscent of some Sphingidae larvae).

Argema mimosae L4
Argema mimosae L4

In the fourth instar, the larvae grow long, fleshy tubercules – this makes them quite distinct. Between their flourescent green segments, they seem to have an almost blue colour. More uncommonly the larvae also have a bright yellow form.

In this stage, larvae are best raised in large plastic boxes, with large ventilation holes (or the lid removed) for the combination of the retention of moisture, yet a lot of ventilation. High humidity is important! The larvae appreciate warm, humid air.

Personally, I raise them on branches of cut foot plant in water bottles (this keeps the leaves/plant fresh) inside large plastic containers; I cut large holes in the lid of the plastic boxes and replace it with mesh.

Bart Coppens approved rearing setup for A. mimosae 🙂 big plastic blox, with a large hole in the lid covered by netting

Argema mimosae L5

In the fifth instar, their tubercules become very long! It looks a little bit odd; but that’s what makes the larvae of this species attractive to study in captivity. The spines are quite harmless thankfully!

Argema mimosae L5 growing well
Argema mimosae L5 are quite thick when fully grown!
Argema mimosae L5 close to cocooning

Make sure to keep their containers clear, warm, and humid. Replace old food plant every 2-4 days. Make sure to remove droppings dialy to bi-dialy. This species likes to be clean! They can be a little sensitive to infections and diseases. Keeping larval density low (don’t overcrowd) also helps to prevent diseases.

Argema mimosae L5

If kept warm, the larvae of this species can grow from hatchlings (L1) to spinning cocoons in 30-40 days. This is relatively fast; a timespan of 1 – 1.5 month time – considering the fact that various Saturniidae equal in size or even smaller can take up to 2 months. That being said, growth speed does vary based on diet, temperature, genetics and more factors!

When ready to transform, they will spin silken cocoons – preferably in the axils of branches, or hidden between the leaves, or on the tree bark.

Argema mimosae spinning cocoon

Argema mimosae cocoon
Argema mimosae cocoon
Argema mimosae cocoon harvest

The cocoons of Argema mimosae are very robust! In the wild they can endure prolonged hot and dry temperatures. In captivity, the cocoons are best kept hot and humid (humid is very important!) to stimulate the emergence/development of the moths.

In the wild, this species mostly seems to have two generations. The cocoons of the second brood tend to ‘hibernate’ (or rather, diapause – as calling it a hibernation would be innapropriate for tropical Africa!) through the dry season, whereas the cocoons of the first brood are more inclined to emerge regardless of the circumstances.

That being said; in captivity, it can be quite complicated to trigger the moths the emerge in a synchronised fashion.

In captivity, it is sometimes notoriously hard to synchronise the pupae. Breeders trying to breed this species outside of its native range often run into issues; such as the moths emerging from their pupae very sporadically – sometimes even months or years(!) apart. Considering their short lifespans, one would have to be lucky to have a male and female emerge around the same time! It is unclear if pupae diapause that long in the wild. Maybe not – there’s a chance they are missing a number of environmental cues they rely on in the wild, to synchronise the moths eclosing from the pupae.

It could be worth it to try and simulate the African dry season / wet season – perhaps it would result in the moths eclosing more predictably! In east Africa, typically the dry season runs from May to September, with June and July relatively cool and August and September hot and humid. The (warm!) wet season begins in November and finishes in March. April is autumn and a transition month while late September to early November is spring.

Argema mimosae male
Argema mimosae males
Argema mimosae female
Argema mimosae female

Try to store the pupae in a warm and humid (keep them humid!) space. When your moths emerge; congratulations! Be amazed by the beauty of the African moon moth.

Males and females are similar, but there are differences; females have thinner antennae, a larger wing surface area, and slightly shorter tails than the males – they also have a much thicker and heavier abdomen.

There is colour variation in this species, although it’s subtle! The moths vary from a greenish, almost fluorescent type of yellow to a much darker and lemon-coloured type of yellow.

Males and females do mate in captivity, although it can be tricky. It’s said they prefer warm conditions, and an environment with little artificial light. Natural pairings are the best way to approach it; handpairing this species seems to be extremely difficult compared to natural pairings that are more easy to obtain. That being said, in some cases males and females refuse to mate in captivity, even if all the conditions seem perfect.

From my experience, if you do achieve a pairing, raising the caterpillars is not hard; getting them to pair is the hardest part!

Thank you for enjoying my website about moths! Consider checking out our other pages – this website has over 100 moth life cycles for you to look at! Argema mimosae is one amazing insect.

Thank you for reading my article. This is the end of this page. Below you will find some useful links to help you navigate my website better or help you find more information that you need about moths and butterflies. 

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Citations: Coppens, B. (2022); Written by Bart Coppens; based on a real life breeding experience [for citations in literature and publications] 

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