Pterolocera amplicornis Walker, 1855
Don Herbison-Evans,
Stella Crossley

Pterolocera amplicornis
(Photo: courtesy of Merlin Crossley, Melbourne, Victoria)

This is a brown Caterpillar with black and yellow markings. It is hairy, although it is not as hairy as most Anthelids.

Pterolocera amplicornis
(Photo: courtesy of Judy Bourke, Maude, Victoria)

The caterpillar appears to feed on various narrow-leaved Grasses ( POACEAE ), and grows to a length of about 4 cms.

Pterolocera amplicornis

Pterolocera amplicornis
Pupa from inside a cocoon
(Photos: courtesy of Merlin Crossley, Melbourne, Victoria)

It pupates in a dark brown vertical felted cocoon in the ground, with a silk tube leading to the surface.

Pterolocera amplicornis

The adult male moth is buff with brown markings. It has a wing span of about 3 cms. It has very substantial antennae, from which no doubt the species was named (Greek: ampli = big, cornis = horn).

Pterolocera amplicornis   Pterolocera amplicornis
Flightless female adults
(Photos : courtesy of Merlin Crossley, Melbourne, Victoria)

The females are dark brown and hairy, with only vestigial wings and so are flightless. The females have a length of about 2 cms.

The males have an interesting flight. They fly very fast in a zig-zag path, thus covering a broad swathe, about 10 metres wide, as they go, Presumably they are filtering the air with their large antennae, searching for the scent of the flightless females.

The caterpillars are very common on pastureland reserves on the outskirts of Melbourne. We have found them on one pasture every year for the past eleven years. On a sunny day the Caterpillars are easily spotted clinging to plants or crawling onto the pavements which surround the reserve. On this pasture, they appear to be feeding on

  • Oat Grass ( Danthonia spicata , POACEAE ).

    We have also found similar looking caterpillars on leaf litter in dry sclerophyll forest, where the only grass available is the occasional clump of Tussock Grass.

    In spite of the ready availability of these caterpillars our success rate in rearing them through to the adult moth is low. Many specimens were attacked by a white fungus, while others just stopped feeding and died, probably from a virus. The amounts of heat light and moisture may be particularly critical for this species.

    The species is found in

  • New South Wales,
  • Victoria,
  • Tasmania,
  • South Australia, and
  • Western Australia.

    The status of this species and the distinctions between this and other Pterolocera species are unclear. It may also be a complex of several species.

    Further Reading

    M.F. Day, Ian F.B. Common, J.L. Farrant and Coralie Potter,
    A Polyhedral Virus Disease of a Pasture Caterpillar, Pterolocera Amplicornis Walker (Anthelidae),
    Australian Journal of Biological Sciences,
    Volume 6, Number 4 (1953), pp. 574 - 579.

    Peter Marriott,
    Moths of Victoria - Part 1,
    Silk Moths and Allies - BOMBYCOIDEA
    Entomological Society of Victoria, 2008, pp. 22-23.

    Francis Walker,
    Catalogue of Lepidoptera Heterocera,
    List of the Specimens of Lepidopterous Insects in the Collection of the British Museum,
    Part 4 (1855), pp. 884-885.

    Australian Butterflies
    Australian Moths

    (updated 14 October 2010)