Phyllodes imperialis H. Druce, 1888
Imperial Fruit Sucking Moth
(one synonym : Phyllodes meyricci Hampson, 1913)
Don Herbison-Evans
John Moss & Stella Crossley

Phyllodes imperialis
(Photo: courtesy of Neil Hewett ,   Cooper Creek Wilderness, Queensland)

This spectacular Caterpillar is mainly brown or grey, with diagonal shading and thin wiggly white lines. There is a variable black, yellow, and red mark each side of the first abdominal sement.

Phyllodes imperialis
(Photo: courtesy of Kath Vail, Middle Pocket, New South Wales)

The final abdominal segments are elongated with a big black mark outlined in white underneath. The legs and prolegs sometimes have red markings.

Phyllodes imperialis
(Photo: courtesy of David Johnston, Witta, Queensland)

If molested, the caterpillar bends its head downwards beneath the raised front portion of its body, stretching the skin on its dorsum, revealing what appears to be a pair of large, blue-black 'eyes' and a double row of white teeth-like markings: a most remarkable effect which would be sufficient to startle any potential avian, reptilian or mammalian predator.

Phyllodes imperialis
(Photo: courtesy of Kath Vail, Middle Pocket, New South Wales)

The caterpillar has a final instar that is about 12 cms long. The caterpillar feeds on vines from the plant family MENISPERMACEAE, such as :

  • Carronia Vine ( Carronia multisepala )
        in the Blackall Ranges, and
  • Milk Vine ( Pycnarrhena australiana )
        in north Queensland.

    Phyllodes imperialis
    (Photo: courtesy of Kath Vail, Middle Pocket, New South Wales)

    As well as the spectacular appearance of the larva, the pupa is also similarly endowed, exhibiting what resembles transparent circumferential panels on every abdominal segment. It is difficult to imagine what function this serves, considerig the larva usually encloses itself in a thin silk cocoon, woven loosely into dead leaves on the ground.

    Phyllodes imperialis
    (Photo: courtesy of Neil Hewett ,   Cooper Creek Wilderness, Queensland)

    The adult moth has forewings that are chocolate brown and leaf-shaped, with an irregular white mark near the middle. In females the white mark is often less visible. When at rest, the forewings cover the hindwings in a 'steep, peaked roof' shape, and the insect disappears from view. Any potential predator sees what appears only to be a dead leaf: a good example of leaf crypsis.

    Phyllodes imperialis
    (Photo: courtesy of Buck Richardson, Kuranda, Queensland)

    The hindwings are black with a large pinkish-red central area, white spots along the edges. The expanded forewing size of the northern subspecies adult varies from 13 to 17 cms. The southern subspecies is smaller.

    Phyllodes imperialis
    Vanuatu, 1987

    The species occurs as several subspecies across the south-west Pacific, including

  • New Caledonia,
  • Papua New Guina,
  • Solomons,
  • Vanuatu,

    and in Australia:

    Phyllodes imperialis
    male, drawing by George Francis Hampson, listed as Phyllodes papuana
    Catalogue of Lepidoptera Phalænæ in the British Museum,
    Noctuidæ, Volume XII (1913), Plate CCXI, figure 2,
    image courtesy of Biodiversity Heritage Library, digitized by Ernst Mayr Library, Harvard University.

    The moths feed on the juice of fruit that has been damaged in some way, although they do not damage fruit themselves as they do not have the saw-like proboscis found in other genera of CATOCALINAE.

    Phyllodes imperialis
    (Photo: courtesy of Neil Hewett, Cooper Creek Wilderness, Queensland)

    Further reading :

    Ian F.B. Common,
    Moths of Australia,
    Melbourne University Press, 1990, pl. 21.8, p. 454.

    Herbert Druce,
    Descriptions of new Species of Lepidoptera, chiefly from Central America,
    Annals and Magazine of Natural History,
    Series 6, Part 2 (1888), p. 241.

    Lois Hughes & John Moss,
    Fruit-piercing Moths - Night Raiders,
    Metamorphosis Australia,
    Issue 67 (December 2012), pp. 7-8,
    Butterflies and Other Invertebrates Club.

    Buck Richardson,
    Tropical Queensland Wildlife from Dusk to Dawn Science and Art,
    LeapFrogOz, Kuranda, 2015, p. 148.

    Don P.A. Sands,
    Conservation Status of Lepidoptera, assessment , threatening processes and recovery action,
    The Other 99%. The Conservation and Biodiversity of Invertebrates,
    Transactions of the Royal Zoological Society of NSW,
    1999, pp. 388-393.

    Paul Zborowski and Ted Edwards,
    A Guide to Australian Moths,
    CSIRO Publishing, 2007, p. 15.

    Australian Butterflies
    Australian Moths

    (updated 1 April 2011, 18 April 2017)