Chelepteryx collesi Gray, [1835]
Batwing or White Stemmed Gum Moth
Don Herbison-Evans,
Alan Tickner & Stella Crossley

Chelepteryx collesi
(Photo: courtesy of the Macleay Museum, University of Sydney)

This Caterpillar is a great hazard to people climbing Gum trees. Scattered over its skin are tufts of long stiff reddish hairs, which are strong enough to penetrate human skin. When they do, they are very painful, and difficult to remove because they are barbed and brittle. if one should lodge in the eye, it can cause serious sight problems.

Chelepteryx collesi
(Photo: courtesy of Ian McMillan, Imbil, Queensland)

The Caterpillar is grey and black, with four of large pale yellow spots on each segment (two on the back, and one each side), each with a tuft of these dangerous hairs.

Chelepteryx collesi
(Photo: courtesy of Margaret Humphrey)

It feeds on the leaves of various trees in the family MYRTACEAE, such as :

  • Brush Box ( Lophostemon confertus ),
  • Blake Paperbark ( Melaleuca quinquenervia ), and
  • various Gum Trees ( Angophora and Eucalyptus species ).

    Chelepteryx collesi
    (Photo: courtesy of Ralph Willis)

    It is also one of the largest Caterpillars in Australia, growing in length to about 12 cms. Some trees where they may be found most years in Leichhardt are known by local school-children as 'sausage trees' because the Caterpillars look from the ground like sausages growing in the trees.

    Chelepteryx collesi
    (Specimen: courtesy of the Macleay Museum, University of Sydney)

    When mature, the Caterpillars often pupate on the trunk of the food tree, or else sometimes go walkabout to seek a nice crevice in a wall or some such place. They are so big that they are quite noticeable when they cross roads and paths. They pupate in a leathery double walled cocoon, which is covered by the same hazardous stiff hairs. The Caterpillar pushes these through the silk as the cocoon is constructed. The cocoons are usually well camouflaged, and may be up to 12 cms. long. They are a great hazard to children and others who climb gum trees.

    Chelepteryx collesi
    cocoon cut open to show pupa
    (Photo: courtesy of the Macleay Museum, University of Sydney)

    The moths usually emerge in autumn (April, May), although we have had specimens stay as pupae for over 12 months. The moths large and brown, with wavy bands of yellow and grey.

    Chelepteryx collesi
    (Photo: courtesy of Miriam and Eric Heatwole, Murrumbateman, New South Wales)

    The males have a wingspan of about 14 cms. The males will often come to lights at night, but the females seldom do.

    Chelepteryx collesi
    (Photo: courtesy of Ronda Warhurst, Warwick, Queensland)

    The male moth has a special defence posture when threatened: rearing up, extending its dark fore legs, and exposing the light underside of the wings. In this posture, it resembles a large spider about to strike.

    Chelepteryx collesi
    (Photo: courtesy of Laura Levens, Victoria)

    The females are larger, reaching a wingspan of 16 cms. The moths are inclined to fly in the evening at tree-top level, and flap quite slowly. They are often mistaken for bats.

    Chelepteryx collesi
    egg mass

    The eggs are brown, oval, and rough, each with a length of about 2mm. They are laid in untidy masses of 20 or so, on any arbitrary surface.

    Chelepteryx collesi
    mating couple
    (Photo: courtesy of Andreas Betzner, Canberra, Australian Capital Territory)

    The species is found over much of south-eastern Australia, including:

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

    Chelepteryx collesi
    (Photo: by Stacy Wade, courtesy of Joan Fearn, Tomakin, New South Wales)

    Further reading :

    David Carter,
    Butterflies and Moths,
    Collins Eyewitness Handbooks, Sydney 1992, p. 212.

    Ian F.B. Common,
    Moths of Australia,
    Melbourne University Press, 1990, fig. 38.12, pp. 70, 394.

    George Robert Gray,
    Description of a new Species of Australian Moth,
    Transactions of the Entomological Society of London,
    Volume 1, Part 2 (1835), pp. 122-123..

    Peter Hendry,
    The Anthelidae,
    Metamorphosis Australia,
    Issue 50 (September 2008), pp 27-31,
    Butterflies and Other Invertebrates Club.

    Peter Marriott,
    Moths of Victoria - Part 1,
    Silk Moths and Allies - BOMBYCOIDEA
    Entomological Society of Victoria, 2008, pp. 20-21.

    Joe Turnbull, Densey Cyne,
    You Asked (3rd letter),
    Metamorphosis Australia,
    Issue 69 (June 2013), pp. 41-42,
    Butterflies and Other Invertebrates Club.

    Paul Zborowski and Ted Edwards,
    A Guide to Australian Moths,
    CSIRO Publishing, 2007, pp. 156, 176.

    Australian Butterflies
    Australian Moths

    (updated 6 December 2012, 4 January 2014)