Tonica effractella (Snellen, 1878)
(formerly known as Cryptolechia effractella)
DEPRESSARIIDAE,   GELECHIOIDEA
 
Don Herbison-Evans,
(donherbisonevans@yahoo.com)
and
Stella Crossley

Tonica effractella
early
instar
(Specimen: courtesy of Fred Swindley)

This Caterpillar is initially pale brown with a dark brown head, prothorax, true legs and tail.

Tonica effractella
caterpillar inside its borehole
(Specimen: courtesy of Fred Swindley)

Later the caterpillar becomes brown, and develops rows of dark brown tubercles along the back, and has a flattened abdomen towards the tail.

Tonica effractella
(Photo: courtesy of Fred Swindley)

It bores into and feeds inside the growing shoots of trees in STERCULIACEAE including:

  • Flame Tree ( Brachychiton acerifolium ),
  • Red-flowered Kurrajong ( Brachychiton paradoxum ), and
  • Monkeynut Tree ( Sterculia quadrifida ),

    although it has also been known to attack:

  • Cotton ( Gossypium hirsutum, MALVACEAE ).

    Tonica effractella
    Beads of gum and frass at bore hole entrance
    (Specimen: courtesy of Fred Swindley)

    The plant appears to respond by secreting a gelatinous sap to heal the wound, but the caterpillar collects this inside its borehole, rolls it into little round beads, and deposits them at the entrance to its borehole, together with frass.

    Tonica effractella
    last instar
    (Photo: courtesy of Fred Swindley)

    The caterpillar pupates without a cocoon on the outside of the stem. The pupa is camouflaged in various shades of brown. It stands on its tail, but it is very curved. When disturbed, the pupa curls down to nearly touch the substrate, and then flicks back up again.

    Tonica effractella
    (Specimen: courtesy of Fred Swindley)

    The adult moth has wings which look as though a semi-circular piece has been taken out of the costa. It also has raised areas on the wings of loose scales.

    Tonica effractella

    Tonica effractella
    Female
    (Specimen: courtesy of Fred Swindley)

    The males are smaller than the females. The males have a wingspan of about 2 cms. The females have a wing span of about 2.5 cms. The male that we raised was nearly white, and the female fawn coloured. Both had a little black mark on the tip of each forewing. They both rest with its long mouth parts extended out in front of the head.

    Tonica effractella

    Tonica effractella
    Male
    (Specimen: courtesy of Fred Swindley)

    The irregular shape makes a very effective camouflage on the irregular bark and stems of the food plant.

    Tonica effractella
    Male
    (Specimen: courtesy of Fred Swindley)

    Our specimens were obtained from a tree in West Ryde, Sydney. The Cockatoos were very active in this tree, tearing the twigs apart. We suspect this damage was to get to the Tonica larvae inside.

    Tonica effractella
    Twig damage caused by Cockatoos,
    which were probably in search of Tonica Caterpillars.
    (Specimen: courtesy of Fred Swindley)

    Tonica effractella
    Drawing: by Pieter C. T. Snellen, listed as Cryptolechia effractella,
    Nieuwe Exotische Tineinen, Tijdschrift voor Entomologie,
    Volume 21 (1878), p. 139, Plate 7, fig. 17,
    image courtesy of Biodiversity Heritage Library, digitized by Smithsonian Libraries.


    Further reading :

    Ian F.B. Common,
    Moths of Australia,
    Melbourne University Press, 1990, fig. 24.5, p. 239.

    Peter Hendry,
    You Asked,
    Butterflies and Other Invertebrates Club,
    Metamorphosis Australia,
    Issue 74 (September 2014), pp. 31-34.

    Edward Meyrick,
    Descriptions of Australian Lepidoptera. Part I,
    Transactions of the Royal Society of South Australia,
    Volume 26 (1902), p. 164.

    Pieter Cornelius Tobias Snellen,
    Nieuwe Exotische Tineinen,
    Tijdschrift voor Entomologie,
    Volume 21 (1878), p. 139, and also Plate 7, figs. 17-25.

    Paul Zborowski and Ted Edwards,
    A Guide to Australian Moths,
    CSIRO Publishing, 2007, p. 80.


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    (updated 4 February 2008, 2 June 2017, 1 February 2021)