Saturnia pyri

Saturnia pyri (Denis and Schiffermüller)

Taxonomic placing: Insecta, Holometabola, Lepidoptera, Saturniidae.

Common name: Giant peacock moth, Aristotle’s silkworm.

Geographic distribution: Europe, North Africa, Middle East and Siberia.

Morphology: Body length 40-45 mm, brown-grey. The wings carry dark, variable color patterns, a posterior dark band bordered by a pale stripe, and an eye-like, variously-colored spot in their midst. The larvae (caterpillars) are initially blackish, later becoming golden-green, length up to 120 mm. They bear tubercules that carry stinging hairs, those on the 4th instar with raised, tubercles that carry sharp, liquid-filled spines as well as the hairs. They pupate in dark silk cocoons, whose strands are used to produce a high-quality silk.

Host plants: Various fruit and ornamental trees and shrubs.

Life history: This pest has a single annual generation. The moths appear in spring, placing their eggs (about 300/female) in batches on stems or twigs of host trees. The larvae feed on the foliage for about 2 months, growing greatly in size. They then move to nearby sites, such as windbreak trees, whereon they pupate within a cocoon for several months till next spring. Larger larvae make short sounds (“chirping”), probably as anti-predator warning signals.

Economic importance: The larvae feed on the leaves of many fruit trees, such as apple, pear and plum. They consume large quantities of foliage, sometimes leaving only bare twigs, affecting the crop. Young trees in nurseries are especially vulnerable.


Monitoring and mechanical control: The large, brightly-colored larvae are easily seen and can be picked up and removed.

Chemical control: Applying stomach poisons.

Biological control: Many parasitoids of the families Ichneumonidae, Pteromalidae and (mostly) Tachinidae attack the pest in different regions, but their controlling effect is not clear. Ants and birds also take unknown numbers of pest adults and larvae.


Bura, V.L., Fleming, A.J. and Yack, J.E. 2009. What’s the buzz? Ultrasonic and sonic warning signals in caterpillars of the great peacock moth (Saturnia pyri). Naturwissenschaften 96: 713-718.

Deml, R. and Dettner, K. 1995. Effects of emperor moth larval secretions, hemolymph, and components on microorganisms and predators. Entomologia Experimentalis et Applicata 76: 287-293.

Rivnay, E. and Sobrio, G. 1967. The phenology and diapause of Saturnia pyri Schiff. in temperate and subtropic climates. Zeitschrift für Angewandte Entomologie 59: 59-63.

Savkovskii, P.P. 1981. The pear saturniid. Zashchita Rastenii 10: 62 (in Russian).

Talhouk, A.S. 1977. Contributions to the knowledge of almond pests in East Mediterranean countries. VII. The defoliators. Zeitschrift für Angewandte Entomologie 84: 242–250.