The adult emperor moth (Saturnia pavonia) is a spectacular insect. Males have a complex pattern of grey, dark brown and orange markings on their upper forewings, with prominent eye spots, coloured black and yellow resembling the eyes of an owl. There are similar eye spots on the upper hindwing, these set against an orange background. Females also have the eye spots but set against a background that is a combination of buff-grey and white patterns. Both sexes have long fur on the thorax. When fully-grown, the caterpillars are handsome creatures, green with black bands around each segment of their body. They are also covered with pinkish or orange lumps, from which grow tufts of black hairs.
The adult emperor moths are only on the wing for a couple of months at the most, and during this time they do not feed. They appear in April and are day-flying, the males flying about rapidly in their search for females. Females rest during daytime and an un-mated female can attract a large number of males if she is found resting.
Having mated, the females fly off in the early part of the night to lay their eggs in batches on a number of different species of plants. These include meadow sweet, heather, hawthorn, bramble and birch. The caterpillars hatch in late May and initially feed in groups. They overwinter as pupae.
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