Gypsy moths

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Gypsy moths

Exotic to Australia

Features: Medium sized moths that infest and destroy many kinds
of plants; large hairy caterpillars up to 7 cm long, with distinctive
red and blue spots
Where they're from: Asia, Europe, North Africa, North America
How they spread: Imported nursery stock, freight, cargo ships,
At risk: More than 1000 plant species including eucalypts and
pine forests, fruit and nut trees

Gypsy moth infesting a tree trunk. Note the dark yellow egg masses.
Karla Salp, Washington State Department of Agriculture,

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Keep it out

Gypsy moth species (Lymatria spp.) are destructive pests of forests and horticulture that are present in many areas of the world. They attack more than 1000 species of plants including fruit and nut trees, plantation forests, native species and ornamental trees. They breed quickly, laying egg masses that contain 100 – 1200 eggs. Large populations of caterpillars able to completely defoliate trees causing them to die.

The moths lay yellow egg masses on hard surfaces, usually tree trunks but also on logs, outdoor furniture, nursery stock, pallets, shipping containers and on the hulls and rigging of ships. This makes them good at hitchhiking around the world. Locally they can fly, but some also spread as larvae on silk threads.

If a gypsy moth species established in Australia they would be extremely difficult and expensive to manage, and would cause problems for many farmers, foresters, threaten our natural environment and impact our gardens.

Importing goods

To keep gypsy moths out of Australia, never ignore Australia’s strict biosecurity rules.

Import shipments may need to be treated and certified, so before you import, check our Biosecurity Import Conditions system (BICON).

What to look for

A gypsy moth would be most likely to enter Australia in the egg stage. Look for dark yellow egg masses on:

  • cargo ships
  • commodities
  • containers
  • freight
  • nursery stock
  • plant parts
  • vehicles.

The flight season (July – September) until hatching time (April – May) is the most likely time when eggs could enter Australia.

Also look out for the pest in the caterpillar stage, when it is large (up to 7 cm long) dark and hairy with two distinctive rows of blue and red raised spots along the back.

As moths, adult males are grey-brown with a wingspan of 3-4 cm and females are pale yellow with wavy dark brown bands and a larger wingspan of 4-7 cm.

Asian gypsy moth (Lymantria dispar) caterpillars have distinctive pairs of blue and red spots along their length, and can grow up to 7 cm long. Karla Salp, Washington State Department of Agriculture,
The highly invasive gypsy moth species has a wingspan of 3-7 cm. This is the light-coloured female. Karla Salp, Washington State Department of Agriculture,


Caterpillars can strip trees of all foliage eventually killing them. Karla Salp, Washington State Department of Agriculture,


Where to look


If you work around imported goods you need to look for gypsy moths or their egg masses attached to:

  • planes
  • commodities
  • freight
  • nursery stock
  • shipping containers
  • vehicles
  • vessels.

Growers and home gardeners

Look out for egg masses, caterpillars and moths on trees including:   

  • eucalypts
  • fruit trees
  • rose
  • timber
  • birch
  • hemlock
  • pines
  • spruces
  • oak
  • ornamental plants.

Damage to crops

Gypsy moths target:

  • forestry
  • nursery
  • fruit
  • nuts.

What to do

If you think you’ve found gypsy moth:

  • take a photo
  • do not disturb the insect (this may be as simple as closing the doors on a shipping container or preventing access to an orchard)
  • collect a sample, if it is safe to do so and if it doesn’t disturb the insects.

Read the detail


Last reviewed: 1 September 2020
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