Glossary of Lepidoptera Technical Terms
Don Herbison-Evans
Stella Crossley

names of areas of a wing
for example: Acraea andromacha

apex (plural: apices)
The wingtip: the area of a wing usually furthest from the body, where the
costa meets the termen.

base, basal

The area of a wing nearest the body, where it joins the


Having two sets of tiny comb-like teeth, one set each side, along the length of a filament such as an antenna.

Situated in or near the tail or posterior part of the body.

Organs at the end of the abdomen of male moths that can be everted to expose tufts of hair which disperse


The leading edge of a wing, between the
base and the apex.

One or more hooks at the tip of the abdomen of a pupa that hook into a pad of silk laid on some supporting object.

Little hooks arranged often in a characteristic pattern under a

The fifth major vein in a wing.

Located in a cell in the middle of a wing that is relatively free of veins, bounded by the radius, the cubitus and the discocellular veins.

Of the back.

The section of a leg nearest the body.

The dried pellets of excreta of the caterpillar.

A type of tongue on the adults of some butterfly and moth families, used for sucking up liquids, otherwise kept coiled under the head.

inner margin

The trailing edge of a wing, between the
tornus and the base.

One of the stages of growth in the life of a Caterpillar. At the end of each stage, having reached the limit of the elasticity of its skin, it sheds the outer skin layer, having grown a potentially larger skin underneath. Often the coloration and/or pattern of the skin of each instar is different from the previous one. Most caterpillars go through 5 or 6 instars.

A chemical emitted as a smell by one organism that is detected by another organism which uses it to find the first one.

labial palps
Hypena subvittalis
magnified view of the underside of the labial palps of
Hypena subvittalis
(Photo: copyright Lyn Finn, Hunter Region School of Photography in Newcastle, Macquarie Hills, New South Wales)

These are two structures like short antennae by the mouth of many invertebrates, probably used for distinguishing food items. In some butterflies and moths, they are small and hardly noticeable, but some species have very evident palps. In some species they are scaly, and in some they are hairy. Some species hold them tucked under the head, some stiffly out in front of the head, and others hold them curved up over the head.

larva (plural: larvae)
The 'Caterpillar' or second life stage of many insects, after the egg, and before the pupa.


An edge of a wing, usually the farthest from the body, more accurately called the 'outer margin' or 'termen'.

The fourth major vein in a wing.

The middle section of the three sections of the
thorax, carrying the middle pair of legs, and for adults also the wings of Diptera (Flies), which only have one pair of wings, and the pair of forewings of adult insects with two pairs of wings.

The hind section of the three sections of the
thorax, carrying the pair of hind legs, and the pair of hindwings of adult insects with two pairs of wings.

Having one set of tiny comb-like teeth along the length of a filament such as an antenna.

osmeterium (plural: osmeteria)
A gland bearing strongly smelling substances, usually forked and everted typically from behind the head.

outer margin

An edge of a wing, usually the farthest from the body, often called the 'margin' or 'termen'.

A parasitoid is a parasite that damages its host so much that the host dies.

The comb-like teeth along a the antennae of moths, particularly evident in male moths.

Specific aromatic substances that attract the males and females of the same species together.

Flattened stems of some plants which act instead of leaves, particularly in

  • Opuntia species ( CACTACEAE),
  • Eucalyptus species ( MYRTACEAE), and
  • Acacia species ( MIMOSACEAE).

    pinaculum (plural: pinacula)
    A small
    chitinized plate on the skin of a caterpillar to which setae are attached.

    The foremost of the three sections of the
    thorax, carrying the pair of forelegs. In adult insects, the prothorax does not carry any wings.

    pupa (plural: pupae)
    'chrysalis' or third stage in the life of many insects (between the larva and adult stages), often surrounded by a silk cocoon, and in which the major metamorphosis from larva to adult occurs.

    The third major vein in a wing.

    Stiffened by being partially composed of

    seta (plural: setae)
    A stiff hair or bristle made of
    chitin. The setae of caterpillars can have simple pointed tips, but are often elaborate, including setae with spiculate margins, setae with blunt, inflated, capitate, spatulate, or forked tips, or flattened ovate to discoid setae, as well as inflated, or hollow, open-tipped setae which often exude a viscous, sticky fluid that accumulates as a droplet at the end of the seta.


    (Photo: courtesy of Albert Goede, Hobart)
    Caterpillar of
    Doratifera oxleyi showing the prominent spiracles, each ringed in yellow and black.

    Holes along the side of the body, each often surrounded by a ring of colour in caterpillars. There is one each side of each segment, and they are are joined together internally to the trachea, and allow air to flow and diffuse into muscles and organs of the body.

    Somewhat inward from the edge of the

    Somewhat inward from the edge of the
    termen (outer margin).

    Found in the company of humans.

    Another scientific name given to a biological entity such as a species or family, by an author describing it in a scientific publication, usually after it has already been described and given another name.

    tarsus (plural: tarsi)
    A foot, attached to a
    tibia at the end of a leg.


    The edge of a wing furthest from the body, between the
    apex and the tornus, also called the 'outer margin' or just 'margin'.


    One of the three sections of the body of an insect, between the head and the abdomen. The thorax holds the six legs, and also the wings, if any. The thorax itself is divided into three sections, each holding one pair of legs: the
    prothorax, the mesothorax, and the metathorax.

    The second section of a leg, between the
    femur and the tarsus.


    The rear corner of a wing, where the
    outer margin meets the inner margin.


    head, showing tripectinate antennae of
    Trictena atripalpis
    (Photo: courtesy of Robin Sharp, Victoria)

    Having three sets of tiny comb-like teeth along the length of a filament such as an antenna, which is typical of the the genus Trictena in HEPIALIDAE.

    Having one set of tiny comb-like teeth along the length of a filament such as an antenna.

    Underneath, on the underside.

    Wart-like knobs on a caterpillar to which a number of
    setae are attached.

    Further reading :

    Ian F.B. Common,
    Moths of Australia, Melbourne University Press, 1990, pp. 5-28, and 512-517.

    Link to
    Frequently Asked Questions about Caterpillars

    Australian Butterflies
    Australian Moths

    (updated 19 November 2007, 14 February 2018)