A giant butterfly with a wingspan of up to 25cm has been found at a school in Queensland next to a rainforest.
The builders discovered the giant moth, the heaviest moth in the world, while building new classrooms at Mount Cotton Public School.
According to the Queensland Museum, giant moths are found along the coast of Queensland and New South Wales. Females can weigh up to 30 grams and have a wingspan of up to 25cm. Males are half that size.
Their life cycle is extremely short and adults only live for a few days. They die after mating and laying eggs.
School principal Meagan Steward said the moth was “an incredible find”.
Steward said that due to the location of the school it was not unusual to find a range of animals on the grounds such as bush turkeys, wallabies, koalas, ducks, a snake occasional and once a turtle in the library. “A giant moth was not something we had seen before,” she said on Wednesday.
ABC’s initial reporting and photos of the moth sparked such media attention that the school was forced to ask questions about the moth to the Queensland Department of Education.
Chris Lambkin, the curator of entomology at the Queensland Museum, said the giant moths, or Endoxyla cinera, could be found from the coast of Queensland south of NSW. While not uncommon, they were rarely seen by humans, she said.
Lambkin said this was likely due to several factors, including the short lifespan of adult butterflies and the fact that most people live in urban areas where the invertebrate was not found.
“Female butterflies don’t fly very well either,” she says.
“So most people, if they see one, he’s grown up and climbed a tree trunk or fence post and waits for the male to come along. Normally people don’t see them with their wings outstretched so you don’t realize how big they are, but if you actually lift them up they are very heavy.
As small caterpillars, invertebrates have purple and white bands and penetrate smooth-barked eucalyptus trunks in parks and gardens. They lose banding as they grow into larger grubs.
Lambkin said adult female butterflies do not feed or live on fat stored as larvae while feeding inside the trunk of the tree.
“The first time we see them is when they are over an inch long and thick like a graphite,” she says.
The entomologist said little is known about the first year of the larval stage, which lasts about three years. Adult female butterflies can be up to 6 inches long.
There are around 60 species of wood moth in Australia, according to the Queensland Museum, but not all are as large as the giant wood moth and not all feed on eucalyptus.
The builders took a photo of their find before bringing the butterfly back to the rainforest.
The 4-5 year old class in the new building was asked to develop a creative writing concept after seeing a photo of the moth and decided to write about a moth invasion. “The students wrote very creative and imaginative writing – including Ms. Wilson getting eaten by the giant woodland butterfly,” Steward said.