Painted apple moth

Teia anartoides

The painted apple moth is a native of south-eastern Australia. It poses a risk to horticulture, forestry, and the environment. Its caterpillars eat the leaves of its host, causing serious damage.

About the painted apple moth

The painted apple moth feeds on many different plants, such as apple trees, roses, pines, wattles, and acacias. It has also been found on kōwhai, karaka, and ribbonwood.

Females can lay up to 400 eggs. The eggs and cocoons can be stuck to machinery, vehicles, and containers – which is how they travel internationally.

In 1999, a population of painted apple moth was discovered in West Auckland. It was found on nearly 100 different species of plants. It cost $65 million to eradicate this pest. We declared it successfully eradicated in 2006 and don't want it back.

Global distribution of painted apple moth

World map showing distribution of the painted apple moth

Why this is a problem for New Zealand

The painted apple moth eats many plants that are important culturally and economically to New Zealand. They could cause severe damage and financial losses to forestry. The moth can feed on pine trees that are up to 8 years old. This affects the pine's growth.

If it became established in New Zealand, it could cost our economy hundreds of millions of dollars. It would harm many industries.

How it could get here

The painted apple moth can lay its eggs and make its cocoons on smooth surfaces, like vehicles, shipping containers, and machinery. It could hitchhike its way to New Zealand with other imported goods.

Where you might find it

If it does sneak into New Zealand, you'll notice damage to your garden plants and other host plants. You'll see very hairy caterpillars on the hosts.

How to identify the moth

Moth with brown coloured wings on wingless, large, pale-coloured  female
A male and a female painted apple moth. The male has wings, the female does not. Source: CC 2.0 Donald Hobern

Adult females

  • are 16mm long
  • stay close to their cocoon (they cannot fly)
  • lay their eggs near their cocoon.

Adult males:

  • have wings
  • fly during the day
  • have a wingspan of up to 20mm long
  • can travel up to 10km.
fibrous cocoon with multiple eggs
Painted apple moth cocoon with eggs

The painted apple moth caterpillar is really distinctive. It is:

  • about 3cm long
  • brownish
  • covered all over with long hairs.

Its head and other end have clumps of dark hair that look like horns.

Young caterpillars move by crawling or "ballooning". They shoot silk into the air and let the wind carry them.

caterpiller covered in hair with clumps of hair at ends and on 4 segments
The caterpillar of the painted apple moth

Tell us if you see it

If you see a painted apple moth:

Find out more

Note: This information is a summary of this moth's global distribution and potential impacts on New Zealand.

Last reviewed: