Heliothis punctifera Walker, 1857
Lesser Budworm
(one synonym : Heliothis leucatma Meyrick, 1897)
Don Herbison-Evans
Stella Crossley

Photo: courtesy of Marcus Matthews,
Heliothine Moths of Australia: A Guide to Pest Bollworms and Related Noctuid Groups

The Caterpillar of this species has broad stripes of varying shades of dark green to dark brown, separated by fine white lines, and has a broad pale stripe along each side. The caterpillar has pale hairs behind the head, which distinguish it from similar species. The caterpillar is an agricultural pest on many crops, including :

  • Lucerne ( Medicago sativa, FABACEAE ),
  • Cotton ( Gossypium hirsutum, MALVACEAE ), and
  • Wheat ( Triticum aestivum, POACEAE ),

    as well as feeding on other plants from the families:


    but curiously, will not attack:

  • Tarvine ( Boerhavia diffusa, NYCTAGINACEAE ), or
  • Caltrop ( Tribulus terrestris, ZYGOPHYLLACEAE ).

    Photo: courtesy of Buck Richardson, from
    Tropical Queensland Wildlife from Dusk to Dawn Science and Art

    The adult moths have brown forewings, sometimes with a bold distinctive pattern, and sometimes just brown crossed by some irregular thin black lines.

    (Photo: courtesy of Graeme Cocks, Townsville, Queensland)

    The hindwings are brown fading to white at the base.

    (Photo: copyright of Brett and Marie Smith, at Ellura Sanctuary, South Australia)

    The undersides show a large dark comma-shaped mark under each forewing. The moths have a wingspan of about 3 cms.

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

    The moths can occur in huge numbers, and migrate from one part of the country to another. In November 2005, the moths caused a panic at Murray Downs Golf Club. Swarms of the moths invaded the course, and the clubhouse was totally inundated for 24 hours or so by the moths. They were an absolute plague. The walls, ceiling and floor of the clubhouse was quite literally covered with resting moths. The clubhouse had to be closed for a while to eradicate them. The air on the course was also "thick" with them at the time. They were a 24 hour wonder. They had gone within a day.

    The species occurs throughout most of Australia, including

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

    adult moth: underside
    (Photo: courtesy of Ted Cadwallader)

    Note that this is a different species from Helicoverpa punctigera.

    Further reading :

    John Paul Cunningham, Corinna L. Lange, Gimme H. Walter, and Myron P.Zalucki,
    Host location behaviour in the desert caterpillar, Heliothis punctifera,
    Entomologia Experimentalis et Applicata, Volume 141, Number 1 (2011), pp. 1-7.

    Peter B. McQuillan, Jan A. Forrest, David Keane, & Roger Grund,
    Caterpillars, moths, and their plants of Southern Australia,
    Butterfly Conservation South Australia Inc., Adelaide (2019), pp. 168-169.

    Peter Marriott & Marilyn Hewish,
    Moths of Victoria - Part 9,
    Cutworms and Allies - NOCTUOIDEA (C)
    Entomological Society of Victoria, 2020, pp. 33-35.

    Marcus Matthews,
    Heliothine Moths of Australia: A Guide to Pest Bollworms and Related Noctuid Groups,
    Monographs on Australian Lepidoptera: Volume 7,
    CSIRO Publishing, Melbourne 1999, pp. 12, 35, 37-41, 148, 194-195, Plates 5, 14, 16, 22, 23.

    Buck Richardson,
    Tropical Queensland Wildlife from Dusk to Dawn Science and Art,
    LeapFrogOz, Kuranda, 2015, p. 161.

    Francis Walker,
    Catalogue of Lepidoptera Heterocera,
    List of the Specimens of Lepidopterous Insects in the Collection of the British Museum,
    Part 11 (1857), p. 691, No. 24.

    Paul Zborowski and Ted Edwards,
    A Guide to Australian Moths,
    CSIRO Publishing, 2007, p. 96.

    Australian Butterflies
    Australian Moths

    (updated 15 April 2013, 20 August 2017, 10 September 2019, 26 December 2020)