The Identification of Caterpillars of Australia
  
Don Herbison-Evans,
(donherbisonevans@outlook.com)
and
Stella Crossley

In order to simplify searching through the caterpillar pictures here, at the foot of each of our species and family caterpillar webpages: we have links to two rings of Caterpillar Pages:

One ring is for individual species
for which we have caterpillar pictures:
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The other ring is for families
for which we have caterpillar pictures:
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SPECIAL CATERPILLAR SPECIES
Most insect taxonomy has been performed using the adult forms, so basically the only sure way to determine the species of a caterpillar is to rear it through to the adult butterfly or moth, and then identify that.

Although the caterpillars of many moth species are rather similar to each other, some caterpillars are easy to identify because they have some unique characteristic, see the list on the right.
Some of these caterpillars can be identified to the individual species.
Some can only be identified easily to the family.
But some beasties look like caterpillars but are not true caterpillars at all, see below.

If you cannot get enough information from the
rest of this page, please feel free to contact us,
and tell us:

  • country (not obvious from email!),
  • state or province or area,
  • length and diameter,
  • colour and description,
  • circumstances in which it was found,
  • possible foodplants, and
  • if at all possible: 3 photographs of it:-
        1. from the side,
        2. from on top, and
        3. of the head in close up.

    Please note that we don't know much about non-Australian species.

    
    
    NON-CATERPILLARS
    Some Arthropods and their larvae look like caterpillars but are from other orders. They can easily be distinguished from the larvae of Lepidoptera (true caterpillars) because generally they have the wrong number and types of legs, and not the six true legs plus the extra ten prolegs which most caterpillars have.

    Spitfire Sawfly larvae,
    Gum Sawfly larvae,
    Bottlebrush Sawfly larvae,
    Paperbark Sawfly larvae,
    Red-Ash Sawfly larvae,
    Cherry Slug larvae,
    Other Sawfly larvae,
    'C' grubs,
    Leaf Beetle Grubs,
    Yellow Ladybird larvae,
    Fungus-eating Ladybird larvae,
    Bardee Grubs,
    Soldier Fly Maggots,
    Rat Tailed Fly Maggots,
    Silky Lacewing.
    Mealy Bugs,
    Millipedes,
    Velvet Worms,
    Magnificent Bolas Spider egg-sacs
    House Centipedes
    Bush Centipedes

  • Chelepteryx collesi
    huge: more than 10 cms long,
    Uraba lugens
    has a tall hat on its head,
    Plesanemma fucata
    has a spike on its head,
    Polyura sempronius
    has four spikes on its head,
    Euproctis melanosoma
    black and hairy, with 2 red knobs on the tail,
    Spodoptera litura
    smooth, dark brown, 4 yellow spots on thorax,
    Ochrogaster lunifer
    walks in procession,
    Coequosa triangularis
    green with 2 black knobs on its tail,
    Theretra oldenlandiae
    black, orange spots, wiggly tail spine, eats Balsam,
    Endoxyla leucomochla
    Wijuti (or Witchetty) Grub.
     
     
    FAMILY IDENTIFICATION
     
    Big red rump:
    Day-Flying Moths AGARISTINAE
    Everts stinging hairs when disturbed:
    Spitfires LIMACODIDAE.
    Carries a silk cocoon around, often with sticks or leaves glued to it:
    Bagmoths PSYCHIDAE
    Smooth with a pointed horn on the tail:
    Hawk moths SPHINGIDAE
    Smooth, hides by day, destroys lawns and crops at night:
    Cutworms and Armyworms NOCTUIDAE
    Hairy, especially with four tussocks on the back:
    LYMANTRIIDAE




    Just hairy:

    ARCTIIDAE

    ANTHELIDAE

    NOTODONTIDAE



    Smooth and walks in a looper fashion:

    GEOMETRIDAE

    CALPINAE

    CATOCALINAE

    PLUSIINAE



    Rears up and pokes a forked thing out of its head when disturbed:


    PAPILIONIDAE

    NOTODONTIDAE

    Link to
    Frequently Asked Questions about Caterpillars

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    (updated 3 June 2014, 21 August 2016)