Endoxyla leucomochla (Turner, 1915)
Witjuti, Witchedy, Wichetty, Witchety, witchjetti or Witchetty Grub
(previously known as Xyleutes leucomochla)
ZEUZERINAE,   COSSIDAE,   COSSOIDEA
 
Don Herbison-Evans
(donherbisonevans@yahoo.com)
and
Stella Crossley


(Photo: courtesy of Paul & Linda Speirs)

The Caterpillars of this species live in tunnels in the ground. They feed on sap from the roots of :

  • Wichetty Bush ( Acacia kempeana, MIMOSACEAE ), and
  • Small Cooba ( Acacia ligulata, MIMOSACEAE ).


    (Photo: courtesy of Margaret Milamba)

    The animal is cylindrical, white, and has a brown head. It and the caterpillars of several other related species have been used as food and as medicine by Australian Aborigines, and are important subjects in Aboriginal Art. The caterpillars are usually eaten cooked, and a number of modern recipes for them have been devised.


    Digging out larval tunnels around roots of Wijuti Bush

    The caterpillar grows to a length of about 7 cms. It pupates inside its tunnel.


    female
    (Photo: courtesy of Donald Hobern, Aranda, Australian Capital Territory)

    The adult female is a large finely mottled grey moth, each forewing with brown veins, two misaligned half-length pale streaks, variable black areas, and a rusty base. The hindwings are grey shading to rusty red at the bases and along the hind-margins. The females have thread-like antennae. The wingspan of the female is up to 18 cms.


    male
    (Photo: courtesy of CSIRO/BIO Photography Group, Centre for Biodiversity Genomics, University of Guelph)

    The male moth forewings are are more strongly marked, with no rusty suffusion at the bases. The male hindwings fade to white at the bases and along the hind-margins. The males have feathery antennae. The male moths have a wingspan of about 10 cms.


    female
    (Photo: courtesy of Paul Kay, Jurien Bay, Western Australia)

    For both sexes: the first three abdominal segments are much paler than the final five segments. The moths have degenerate mouthparts, and so cannot feed. They rely for energy totally on the nourishment taken in by the caterpillar earlier in its life.


    male
    (Photo: courtesy of Paul Kay, Jurien Bay, Western Australia)

    The species has been found inland of mainland Australia, including:

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

    Many people have wondered about rearing the caterpillars commecially. This could be possible if one could catch a gravid female, and provide the caterpillars with an artificial food medium, perhaps like the bark/clover/carrot diet given by Rachel A. Allan et al. for rearing Wiseana copularis.


    underside, male
    (Photo: courtesy of Paul Kay, Jurien Bay, Western Australia)


    Further reading :

    Ian F.B. Common,
    Moths of Australia, Melbourne University Press, 1990, p. 271.

    A. Jefferis Turner,
    Studies in Australian Lepidoptera,
    Proceedings of the Royal Society of Queensland,
    Volume 27 (1915), p. 55.

    Paul Zborowski and Ted Edwards,
    A Guide to Australian Moths, CSIRO Publishing, 2007, pp. 94-95.


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    (updated 17 September 2012, 25 November 2019, 4 October 2020)