Coffs Butterfly House

Australian Caterpillars
and their
Butterflies and Moths

Don Herbison-Evans
Stella Crossley

Sofcom Pick of the Net

Links to descriptions of biology, behaviour, distribution, life histories, and images of
5,590 named and described Australian Lepidoptera species,
but sadly only including
1,009 named species with Caterpillar pictures

Best Nature Sites Award


Frequently Asked Questions
Caterpillar FAQs
for Australian Caterpillars
Caterpillar Foodplant
Flower Familes
Search and Identify
Caterpillar Identification
for Australian Caterpillars

An old Arabic folktale tells how a man standing one night by a river is bored and starts throwing pebbles in the water. Just as dawn breaks, he picks up the last pebble and as he throws it: he briefly looks at it. As it flies through the air, he realises that it was a jewel. A bag of jewels had been spilt on the river-bank, and through ignorance he had thrown them all away *.

We have a similar problem with butterflies and modern society. We are destroying their foodplants and their habitat. If our grandchildren and future generations are to enjoy the wondrous nature of butterflies: we need to allow Caterpillars to coexist with us in our society.

Caterpillars are the immature stages of butterflies and moths (Lepidoptera). At a recent count, Australia was home to 5 families of butterflies (containing about 400 named species), and about 100 families of moths (containing 10,783 named species, with probably as many moth species again yet to be described). Many of the Australian moths and butterflies are very beautiful, and many of their caterpillars are even prettier and more interesting than the their adult forms. Caterpillars are also very tame and easy to catch, and so make delightful house pets.

Only 7% Aussie moth species have known caterpillars. The other 93% of Australian caterpillar species are unidentifiable unless you rear them to an adult, The caterpillar death rate in the wild is over 99%, so for any caterpillar found in the wild: please be prepared to take into protective custody for rearing to identify it, and help us dispel our communal ignorance.

Most Australian Lepidoptera taxonomy and identification has been performed on dead adult moths sent back to the British Museum in London from Australia by the early explorers. Meanwhile: most professional entomologists in Australia are employed to study the control of the few species that are pests. So for instance: there is no information at all on the shapes, colours, and behaviour of the caterpillars of 93% of Australian moth species. So even amateurs can help discover these things by collecting, photographing and rearing in captivity any caterpillars that they find in Australia.

Preserving caterpillars poses difficult problems. This makes the identification of caterpillars difficult. So: of the limited number of Australian Lepidoptera that have known caterpillars: only a small number have been photographed, and still fewer of such photos are on the web. In an attempt to improve this situation: we have created these webpages with all the pictures and links we can find about caterpillars that occur in Australia. The pictures come from ourselves and many colleagues, from a wide variety of sources, and are of very varied quality. We are still adding more pictures, so watch the counts at the head of this webpage.

wing diagram
a brief
useful for those who are entomologically challenged

Did you know:

  • Some Caterpillars have 16 legs and crawl along, and some have legs only near the head and tail so walk in a looper fashion, and some have none and slither like a slug,

  • Caterpillars have 12 eyes,

  • Caterpillars from several species in the family SPHINGIDAE can also open false eyes, like
    fake eyes
    Theretra latreillii

    and some caterpillars in CATOCALINI even have false teeth, like

    fake teeth
    Phyllodes imperialis

  • Caterpillars from the families like TORTRICIDAE can move backwards faster than they can move forwards.

  • Some Caterpillars from species in the family LIMACODIDAE sting, with pockets of stinging spines that they evert when they feel threatened, such as
    stinging caterpillar
    Anaxidia lozogramma

  • Caterpillars from many species, such as those in the subfamily Daneinae feed on poisonous plants, and accumulate the poisons in their body making them poisonous to predators like birds.

  • Caterpillars of species in the family PAPILIONIDAE when threatened evert a pair of horns from behind the head, but which are entirely harmless, like

    Papilio aegeus

  • Whilst most species of caterpillars feed on leaves, some burrow into the soil feeding on roots, some bore into trees eating the wood, and caterpillars of some moths like Scatochresis episema feed on Koala droppings.

  • The female moths of Australian species such as Teia anartoides have no wings, and the species disperses by the young Caterpillars making an open gossamer sail out of silk, and sailing away on it in the wind.

    Link to More Caterpillar Facts.

  • The fauna and the flora of Australia are very different from those in the rest of the world, and this is just as true of the Caterpillars as it is of the better known Marsupials. With the short history of European influence in Australia and only a small human population, only a limited amount of work has been done on naming and identifying the various species.

    Of course, the Australian Aborigines knew a great deal about Australian Lepidoptera, and they used several species as sources of food, for example:

    Wijuti grub
    Wijuti Grubs
    Bogong moth
    Bogong Moths

    The scientific name for a Caterpillar is Larva (plural Larvae). This name was taken from the Latin word Larva meaning amongst other things 'Mask', because Caterpillars could be thought of as masking the butterflies and moths which they become.

    looper caterpillar
    scientific name index

    pretty boring
    but useful if seeking information on a species for which you know even only a part of the scientific name

    Caterpillars have several thousand muscles and have no skeleton. So by extending or contracting appropriate muscles: caterpillars can change their apparent length by plus or minus 25%. The wingspan of the adult imago is approximately equal to the maximum length to which the caterpillar grows. Depending on the weather, availability of food, and genetic variability: caterpillar maximum sizes can also vary by plus or minus 25%. Thus the measurements given in these webpages for various species of moths and butterflies are also implicitly subject to this degree of variability.

    The wingspans given in 19th century descriptions are sometimes listed in 'lines' or its abbreviation " (double quote). A line is 1/12th of an inch, approximately equal to 2 mms. By the term 'wingspan' in these webpages is meant the distance between left and right forewing tips of a specimen with the wings set so that the hind margins of the forewings are at right angles to the axis of the body.

    Note: that we have adopted three unconventional conventions in an attempt to make these webpages more understandable to non-entomologists:
    1. all scientific names are in italics,
    2. all taxonomical levels above genus (such as family, order, class) are in capitals, and
    3. all our pictures have the head to the left, although that has required a left-right reflection of some of the photos.

    We have generally followed the nomenclature and taxonomic divisions as used in the erudite text :


    Checklist of the Lepidoptera of Australia
    Nielsen E.S., Edwards E.D. & Rangsi T.V. (Eds)
    (529pp + CDROM, CSIRO Publishing, Melbourne, 1996)

    These webpages would not be so extensive but for the help of many friends and colleagues, whom we feature on our special

    Acknowledgements Page
    Acknowledgements Page

    We have a separate webpage for each species, and links to these are available from a webpage for each family as a thumbnail picture and a highlighted name. The families are also linked from one webpage for the moths and one for the butterflies. We have included lots of pictures of the adult butterflies and moths also, even if we had no caterpillar pictures for those species. In these cases, our thumbnail pictures show only an adult. For some species we have found no pictures at all, but only some descriptive text. In these cases, we show only a bullet by the name, and the name is highlighted as the link. Some species have been illustrated on Australian postage stamps, and some more widespread species of Australian butterflies and Australian moths have appeared on overseas stamps.

    Many caterpillars are very fussy eaters, and eat only a very restricted range of plants or foodstuffs. We have tried to include links for the known food sources of the various caterpillars. However, we only list those that we have observed, those we have been told about by other observers, and those reported in the literature. In principle, the caterpillars might feed on anything when nobody is looking.


    * story adapted from
    Create More Butterflies,
    Create more butterflies
    courtesy of
    Frank Jordan
    Helen Schwencke

    See also our
    Australian Lepidoptera Book List

    Australian Lepidoptera links

    We also have a list of some
    Overseas Caterpillar and Lepidoptera links
    World Caterpillar Postage Stamps

    Australian Not-Caterpillars
    Australian Butterflies
    Australian Moths
    Australian Not-Moths

    (written 10 August 1995, updated 14 June 2024)