Phalaenoides tristifica (Hübner, 1818)
Willow-herb Day-moth
(erroneously : Phoelenoides ephyra)
Don Herbison-Evans
Stella Crossley

Phalaenoides tristifica
(Photo: courtesy of Merlin Crossley, Melbourne, Victoria)

This is a striking Caterpillar which is pale yellow with a pattern of black markings on each segment. It has long white hairs scattered sparsely over its otherwise smooth skin. It has an orange head capsule with black markings, a series of lateral red spots by the prolegs, and an orange rump with two black spots. This orange rump may cause predators such as birds to mistake the tail for the head.

The caterpillar usually feeds on the foliage of:

  • Cultivated Grape Vine ( Vitis vinifera, VITACEAE ),

    on which it is an agricultural pest. It is also known to feed on:

  • Virginia Creeper ( Parthenocissus quinquefolia, VITACEAE ),
  • Guinea Flowers ( Hibbertia species, DILLENIACEAE ), and
  • Willow Herbs ( Epibolium species, ONAGRACEAE ).

    The caterpillar grows to a length of about 4 cms. When mature, the caterpillar wanders off for several days, then burrows into the soil to pupate. It develops into a pupa with no cocoon.

    Phalaenoides tristifica
    (Photo: courtesy of Karen Biggelaar, Lal Lal, near Ballarat, Victoria)

    The length of the pupal stage varies. In Melbourne, specimens pupating in January emerged in February, but specimens pupating in March did not emerge until the following October.

    Phalaenoides tristifica
    (Specimen: courtesy of the Macleay Museum, University of Sydney)

    The adult moths are black with a pattern of white markings on the forewings, and a vague white spot near the middle of each hindwing. The moths have a wingspan of about 4 cms.

    Phalaenoides tristifica
    (Photo: courtesy of Karen Biggelaar, Lal Lal, near Ballarat, Victoria)

    Underneath, the wings are similar to the upper surfaces, but the body has bands of black and orange hairs.

    Phalaenoides tristifica
    (Specimen: courtesy of the Macleay Museum, University of Sydney)

    Its eye system has been investigated by Horridge et al. as this moth is commonly seen flying in the daytime.

    Specimens have been caught in:

  • Queensland,
  • New South Wales,
  • Australian Capital Territory,
  • Victoria,
  • Tasmania, and
  • South Australia.

    Further reading :

    Ian F.B. Common,
    Moths of Australia,
    Melbourne University Press, 1990, fig. 49.15, pl. 32.10, pp. 47, 464.

    Jacob Hübner,
    Zuträge zur Sammlung exotischer Schmettlinge,
    Volume 1 (1818), p. 28, No. 83,, and Plate 29, figs. 165-166.

    Peter B. McQuillan, Jan A. Forrest, David Keane, & Roger Grund,
    Caterpillars, moths, and their plants of Southern Australia,
    Butterfly Conservation South Australia Inc., Adelaide (2019), pp. 171-172.

    Peter Marriott,
    Moths of Victoria - Part 8,
    Night Moths and Allies - NOCTUOIDEA(B)
    Entomological Society of Victoria, 2017, pp. 34-35.

    Australian Butterflies
    Australian Moths

    (updated 16 November 2011, 1 March 2018, 31 October 2020)