Chamomile Shark

We all love the flowers and scent of Chamomile, but so does the caterpillar of the Chamomile Shark moth.
Photo: Ray Surridge

Scientific name: Cucullia chamomillae

Cornish name: ‘Gouwan’ is the general word for moth

What to look for:

  • Colouring: The caterpillars vary as they grow. Early stage caterpillars are white with green markings (top photo), but they develop a striking pink colouration as they mature (middle photo). The adults are grey-brown (see bottom photo), and females are usually darker than males.
  • Size: Wingspan 40 to 42 mm; caterpillar reaches up to 45 mm in length.
  • Where: Verges, arable land, disturbed ground and wasteland. Fairly common, but becomes rarer further north in Britain.
  • When: Nocturnal: the adult flies from April to June.
  • Similar species: The Shark moth (Cucullia umbratica). The Shark flies later (June and July), although there is a little overlap, but the main distinction is on the fringe of the hindwing which comprises alternate pale and grey bands, compared to the Chamomile Shark, which has a three banded effect, as fine black streaks on the wings extend into the fringe.

The nocturnal Chamomile Shark moth has something of a back-to-front Ugly Duckling story: the beautiful caterpillars, which develop from white with green markings to a predominant and striking pink colouring as they mature, become a rather plain greyish-brown moth. The adults do however have a delicate and pretty tracery of black streaks on their wings.

A relatively common but localised moth in the southern half of England as far as Yorkshire, it is less common in the north and in Scotland, but has been increasing in numbers there since 2003. On the wing in April into early June, the caterpillars appear from late May until the middle of July, before overwintering underground as a cocoon. The foodplants are given away by the species’ common name: Chamomile and similar species, such as Feverfew and Scentless Mayweed.

Did you know…?

…At rest, the Chamomile Shark and closely related moth species show a shark fin-shaped projection just behind the head, hence the common name – you can see this feature in the bottom photo on this page.

Chamomile Shark moth, mature caterpillarMore information and references:

Chinery, M., 2005. Collins Complete Guide to British Insects. Collins, London.

Waring, P., Townsend, M. and Lewington, R., 2009. Field Guide to the Moths of Great Britain and Ireland (second edition). British Wildlife Publishing, Gillingham, Dorset.



Published: July 2014
Author: Amanda Scott
Photos, top to bottom: Early stage instar caterpillar (Ray Surridge); mature caterpillar (Manne Fotos, published under terms of GNU Free Documentation Licence); adult moth (Joop de Bakker at, via Wikimedia Commons)