(erroneously : Trichocercus sparshallii)
THAUMETOPOEINAE , NOTODONTIDAE , NOCTUOIDEA
Mike & Pat Coupar
(Photo: courtesy of Wendy Moore, Melbourne, Victoria)
These Caterpillars are gregarious when young, sometimes following each other like a freight train. Later instars become solitary, and rest conspicuously on the leaves of the foodplant during the day.
The caterpillars have a pale brown head, often with a long tuft of dark hairs behind the head pointing forwards. There is a three or four part black saddle on the back of each abdominal segment, many long pale lateral hairs, and a conspicuous set of coloured tufts along the back.
Over the last six years, we have had enquiries with photos from 27 people who have had either red or yellow tufted versions of the larva. We had 18 from Victoria/ACT/NSW that had red tufts (no yellow ones), and we had 9 from WA had yellow tufts(no red ones). The DNA evidence suggests that there is only one species that occurs on both the east and west coasts of Australia, so it would seem that there are two subspecies that each breed true to colour, one on each side of the country.
The Caterpillars feed on various species of MYRTACEAE, including :
The lateral hairs seem to vary for the red tufted race between white and yellow. Perhaps some of the variants are other species of Trichiocercus. Many of these caterpillars are parasitised and only rarely can be bred through to the adult moth.
The caterpillars grow to a length of about 4 cms. The caterpillars pupate in a silk cocoon in ground debris.
There is a range of wing colours of adult moths. Most are white, but specimens can be obtained from a light grey to a dark grey. Peter Marriott has reported seeing specimens from many places in Victoria from October to May, but there seems to be no time relationship between colour variations. Those from Mt. Martha on the Mornington Peninsula appear to be always white, but those from Ballarat and Kallista have the full range of colours.
They all have a balding brown head and thorax that is initially covered in black hair. The moths have a wingspan of about 4 cms.
The females have a large tuft of short brown hair on the end of the abdomen, and narrow antennae.
The males have a large tuft of long pale brown hair on the end of the abdomen, and feathery antennae.
When disturbed, the moths curl up in a defensive posture, showing yellow bands along the body.
The species is found over most of Australia, including
John Curtis first described the original specimen of this moth. Curtis said it was found by Joseph Sparshall :- "in a lane near Horning (Norfolk, U.K.), early in the morning of the 7th of August, 1829, ... resting on the trunk of an elm tree, he believes". This is the only record outside Australia of this species, and indeed its genus. Slightly puzzling.
Further reading :
Ian F.B. Common,
Moths of Australia,
Melbourne University Press, 1990, fig. 54.13, pl. 30.8, p. 425.
Pat and Mike Coupar,
New South Wales University Press, Sydney 1992, p. 89.
Illustrations and Descriptions of the Genera of Insecta found in Great Britain and Ireland: Containing coloured Figures from Nature of the Most Rare and Beautiful Species, and in Many Instances of the Plants Upon Which They are Found,
Volume 5 (1830), Plate 336.
Moths of Victoria: part 2,
Tiger Moths and their Allies - Noctuoidea (A),
Entomological Society of Victoria, 2009, pp. 8-11.
(updated 14 January 2013, 12 November 2014)