Scopula rubraria (Plantain moth)
Species: S. rubraria
Binomial name: Scopula rubraria
Synonyms: Ptychopoda rubraria, Fidonia acidaliaria, Acidalia attributa, Acidalia figlinaria, Acidalia repletaria.
Common name: Plantain moth
Scopula rubraria is a species of small moth of the Geometridae family. The species occurs throughout Australia, New Zealand, Kermadecs, Norfolk Island and New Caledonia. This moth has straw coloured wings with zigzag markings, and a dark spot near the centre of each wing. The moths have a wingspan of about 2 cm. It is more abundant over the summer months. The moths will fly up in front of people, stock or vehicles when moving through grasslands, sometimes in very large numbers.
The moth lays off-white and ellipsoidal eggs in disorganised strings. The caterpillars are less than 20 mm long and are brown but can vary greatly in tone and pattern. The caterpillars are loopers (they raise part of their body off the plant when moving) and they feed on Plantago lanceolata (Narrow-leaved Plantain).
Scopula rubraria which until now has been relatively benign is now causing widespread havoc across some North Island plantain crops. Some farmers reporting crop damage, with some losing up to 90 percent of their plantain. Plantago lanceolata is a robust herb suited to pastures. It has a tap root that gives some drought tolerance, and it offers feed quality similar to ryegrass. Video below.
Below is a video of Plantain caterpillars in high concentration.