Australian Caterpillars
and their
Butterflies and Moths

Don Herbison-Evans
Stella Crossley

Sofcom Pick of the Net

Links to descriptions of biology, behaviour, distribution, life histories, and images of
4,081 named and described Australian Lepidoptera species,
but sadly only including
727 with Caterpillar pictures

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FAQ page
Caterpillar FAQs
Caterpillar Foodplant Families
Caterpillar Identification Australian

Caterpillars are the immature stages of Lepidoptera (butterflies and moths). At a recent count, Australia was home to 5 familes of butterflies (containing about 400 named species), and about 100 families of moths (containing over 10,000 named species, with probably as many moth species again yet to be described). Many of the Australian moths and butterflies are very beautiful, and many of their caterpillars are even prettier and more interesting than the their adult forms. Caterpillars are also very tame and easy to catch, and so make delightful house pets.

Most Australian Lepidoptera taxonomy and identification has been performed on dead adult moths sent back to the British Museum in London from Australia by the early explorers. Meanwhile: most professional entomologists in Australia are employed to study the control of the few species that are pests. So for instance: there is no information at all on the shapes, colours, and behaviour of the caterpillars of 90% of Australian moths. So even amateurs can help discover these things by collecting, photographing and rearing in captivity any caterpillars that they find in Australia.

Preserving caterpillars poses difficult problems. This makes the identification of caterpillars difficult. So: of the limited number of Australian Lepidoptera that have known caterpillars: only a small number have been photographed, and still fewer of such photos are on the web. In an attempt to improve this situation: we have created these webpages with all the pictures and links we can find about caterpillars that occur in Australia. The pictures come from ourselves and many colleagues, from a wide variety of sources, and are of very varied quality. We are still adding more pictures, so watch the counts at the head of this webpage.

Did you know:

  • Caterpillars from several species in the family SPHINGIDAE can open false eyes, like

    Theretra latreillii

    and some caterpillars in NOCTUIDAE even have false teeth, like

    Phyllodes imperialis

  • Caterpillars from the families like TORTRICIDAE can move backwards faster than they can move forwards.

  • Some Caterpillars from species in the family LIMACODIDAE sting, with pockets of stinging spines that they evert when they feel threatened, such as

    Anaxidia lozogramma

  • Caterpillars from many species, such as those in the genus Triodes feed on poisonous plants, and accumulate the poisons in their body making them poisonous to predators like birds.

  • When threatened, Caterpillars of species in the family PAPILIONIDAE evert a pair of horns from behind the head which produce a pungent aromatic smell, but which are entirely harmless, like

    Papilio aegeus

  • Whilst most species of caterpillars feed on leaves, some burrow into the soil feeding on roots, some bore into trees eating the wood, and caterpillars of the moth Scatochresis episema feed on Koala droppings.

  • Most caterpillars feed only on plants in one family, although some species will eat nearly any leaves put in front of them, but caterpillars of Leptocnaria reducta will eat only leaves from the Cape Lilac Tree (Melia azedarach).

  • The female moths of the Australian species such as Teia anartoides have no wings, and the species disperses by the young Caterpillars making an open gossamer sail out of silk, and sailing away on it in the wind.

    Link to More Caterpillar Facts.

  • The fauna and the flora of Australia are very different from those in the rest of the world, and this is just as true of the Caterpillars as it is of the better known Marsupials. With the short history of European influence in Australia and only a small human population, only a limited amount of work has been done on naming and identifying the various species.

    Of course, the Australian Aborigines knew a great deal about Australian Lepidoptera, and they used several species as sources of food, for example:

    Wijuti Grubs

    Bogong Moths

    The scientific name for a Caterpillar is Larva (plural Larvae). This name is presumably taken from that of the Roman spirits called Larvae, probably because butterflies and moths might be viewed as the spirits of the Caterpillars from which they come.

    scientific name index

    pretty boring,
    but useful if seeking information on a species for which you know the scientific name

    Caterpillars have several thousand muscles and have no skeleton. So by extending or contracting appropriate muscles: caterpillars can change their apparaent length by plus or minus 25%. The wingspan of the adult imago is approximately equal to the maximum length to which the caterpillar grows. Depending on the average temperature, humidity, and availability of food, caterpillar maximum sizes can also vary by plus or minus 25%. Thus the wingspans given in these webpages for various species of moths and butterflies are implicitally subject to this degree of variability.

    The wingspans given in 19th century descriptions are sometimes listed in 'lines' or its abbreviation " (double quote). A line is 1/12th of an inch, approximately equal to 2 mms.

    Note: that we have adopted three unconventional conventions in an attempt to make these webpages more understandable to non-entomologists:
    1. all scientific names are in italics,
    2. all taxonomical levels above genus (such as family, order, class) are in capitals, and
    3. all our pictures have the head to the left, although that has required a left-right reflection of some of the photos.

    We have generally followed the nomenclature and taxonomic divisions as used in the erudite text :

    Checklist of the Lepidoptera of Australia
    Nielsen E.S., Edwards E.D. & Rangsi T.V. (Eds)
    (529pp + CDROM, CSIRO Publishing, Melbourne, 1996)

    These webpages would not be so extensive but for the help of many friends and colleagues, whom we feature on our special


    Acknowledgements Page

    Acknowledgements Page

    We have a separate webpage for each species, and links to these are available from a webpage for each family as a thumbnail picture and a highlighted name. The families are also linked from one webpage for the moths and one for the butterflies. We have included lots of pictures of the adult butterflies and moths also, even if we had no caterpillar pictures for those species. In these cases, our thumbnail pictures show only an adult. For some species we have found no pictures at all, but only some descriptive text. In these cases, we show only a bullet by the name, and the name is highlighted as the link. Some species have been illustrated on Australian postage stamps, and some more widespread species of Australian butterflies and Australian moths have appeared on overseas stamps.

    Many caterpillars are very fussy eaters, and eat only a very restricted range of plants or foodstuffs. We have tried to include links for the known food sources of the various caterpillars. However, we only list those that we have observed, those we have been told about by other observers, and those reported in the literature. In principle, the caterpillars might feed on anything when nobody is looking.

    See also our
    Australian Lepidoptera links

    We also have a list of some
    Overseas Caterpillar and Lepidoptera links

    Australian Butterflies
    Australian Moths

    (written 10 August 1996, updated 20 June 2017)