Don Herbison-Evans (
(Photo: courtesy Merlin Crossley)
This Caterpillar is usually brown and hairy, although the colour can vary from yellow to black. Whatever colour it is, characteristically it has four pale tufts of hair on abdominal segments 1-4, and also a tuft on its tail, and also two black tufts on its head pointing diagonally left and right like a pair of horns. Behind the dorsal tufts are two red markings, surrounding dorsal glands on segments 6 and 7. The hairs can cause skin irritation ( urticaria ) in sensitive people.
young caterpillars ballooning
(Photo: courtesy of Rudie Kuiter, Aquatic Photographics, Victoria)
The Caterpillars have been found feeding on a variety
of plants in suburban gardens including :
In plantation forests, they are a pest on :
In the wild they feed on plants such as:
The males grow to a length of about 2 cms. The females grow to about 3 cms.
They pupate amongst the leaves of the foodplant in a sparse cocoon that they decorate with hairs from their larval skin, making thes cocoons likely to cause urticaria too. The adults emerge after a few days.
The female adult is dull brown, fat and flightless. She stays beside her cocoon emitting a pheromone to attract males. She lays eggs on and around her cocoon after fertilisation. She has a length of about 1 cm.
The male has light or dark brown patterned forewings, and yellow hind wings with a broad black margin. He has a wing span of about 2 cms.
Despite the females being flightless, the newly hatched Caterpillars have a special way of dispersing by spinning threads of silk which are caught in the wind ("ballooning"). So the species is found over most of Australia, including
They seem to have ballooned their way across the Tasman because the species has recently (1999) appeared in
So far this species has not spread beyond Australasia, although related and similar species occur in America.
The sex pheromone components of this species has been determined by an international research team of Dr. Gerhard Gries (Simon Fraser Univ., Burnaby, B.C., Canada), Dr. John Clearwater (Clearwater Research & Consulting, Auckland, NZ) and Dr. Paul W. Schaefer (U.S. Dept. of Agric., Beneficial Insect Introd. Lab., Newark, USA). In December 2003, John Clearwater and Paul Schaefer completed the final field confirmation trapping in Campbelltown, NSW, using a completely synthetic lure, which proved to be very effective at attracting the males into traps. Therefore, there is now a powerful field sampling tool for population assessment, clarification of distribution or habitat preference, or behavior studies. This research was supported in part by Global Forest, an international research institute based in Banff, Alberta, Canada.
Control of the species is being attempted using:
Further reading :
Butterflies and Moths, Collins Eyewitness Handbooks, Sydney 1992, p. 271.
Ian F.B. Common,
Moths of Australia, Melbourne University Press, 1990, pl. 18.9, pp. 70, 428.
Pat and Mike Coupar,
Flying Colours, New South Wales University Press, Sydney 1992, p. 65.
Paul Zborowski and Ted Edwards,
A Guide to Australian Moths, CSIRO Publishing, 2007, p. 177.
(updated 29 January 2013)