Helicoverpa punctigera (Wallengren, 1860)
Australian Native Budworm
(one synonym : Chloridea marmada Swinhoe, 1918)
Don Herbison-Evans
Stella Crossley

Helicoverpa punctigera
(Photo: courtesy of Alison Milton, Austraian National Botanical Gardens, Australian Capital Territory)

This Caterpillar is an agricultural pest feeding on the foliage of many crops and garden flowers, including :

  • Sunflowers ( Helianthus annuus, ASTERACEAE ),
  • Canola ( Brassica napus, BRASSICACEAE ),
  • Pinks ( Dianthus species, CARYOPHYLLACEAE ),
  • Lucerne ( Medicago sativa, FABACEAE ),
  • Flax ( Linum usatissimum, LINACEAE ),
  • Cotton ( Gossypium hirsutum, MALVACEAE ),
  • Snapdragons ( Antirrhinum majus, PLANTAGINACEAE ),
  • Maize ( Zea mays, POACEAE ),
  • Cherry ( Prunus avium, ROSACEAE ), and
  • Tomatoes ( Lycopersicum esculentum, SOLANACEAE ).

    However, this species does not seem to develop resistance to insecticides like its cousin Helicoverpa armigera does.

    The caterpillar is initially pale green, often with black dots and a pattern of thin dark lines running along the body. In later instars , dark lines become less conspicuous.

    Helicoverpa punctigera
    defensive posture
    (Photo: courtesy of Merlin Crossley, Melbourne, Victoria)

    The caterpillar has a characteristic posture when disturbed: it lifts its head and curls it under the front of the body. If even more disturbed, it lets go and drops, rolling into a spiral.

    When fully grown (4 cms.) it pupates in a cocoon under the soil. After about three weeks the adult emerges.

    Helicoverpa punctigera
    (Photo: courtesy of Alison Milton, Austraian National Botanical Gardens, Australian Capital Territory)

    The adult moth has brown forewings with a variable delicate darker tracery. The hindwings are buff with a dark border.

    Helicoverpa punctigera
    (Specimen: courtesy of the Macleay Museum, University of Sydney)

    Underneath, it has broad dark subterminal bands on each wing, and a black comma and a black dot under each forewing. The moth has a wingspan of about 4 cms. The chemical identities of the sex attractant compounds for this moth ( pheromones) have been elucidated.

    The adult moths look very similar to those of the related species in the same genus : Helicoverpa armigera. However, for Helicoverpa punctigera

  • the caterpillars have black hairs on the prothorax,
  • the caterpillars have no dark triangles on the first abdominal segment, and
  • the moths have no pale mark in the black border of the hindwing.

    The moth migrates over large areas of the country, and is found, for example, in:

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

    and has invaded

  • New Zealand.

    The migrations makes control difficult. Attempts to control the species include :

  • proteins from Bacillus thuringiensis
  • breeding resistant Transgenic BT crops, and
  • Integrated Pest Management techniques.

    Note that Helicoverpa punctigera is a different species from Heliothis punctifera.

    Further reading :

    Ian F.B. Common,
    Moths of Australia,
    Melbourne University Press, 1990, fig. 50.9, pp. 31, 43-44, 58, 64, 468.

    Pat and Mike Coupar,
    Flying Colours,
    New South Wales University Press, Sydney 1992, p. 72.

    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. 32-35.

    Marcus Matthews,
    Heliothine Moths of Australia:
    A Guide to Pest Bollworms and Related Noctuid Groups,
    CSIRO Publishing, Melbourne 1999, pp. 5-7, 11, 12, 14, 125-136, 192-193, 202, Plates 12, 13, 15, 19, 21, 22, 23.

    Hans Daniel Johan Wallengren,
    Lepidopterologische Mittheilungen,
    Wiener Entomologische Monatsschrift,
    Volume 4 (1860), pp. 171-172, No. 58.

    Paul Zborowski and Ted Edwards,
    A Guide to Australian Moths,
    CSIRO Publishing, 2007, pp. 167, 194, 198.

    Australian Butterflies
    Australian Moths

    (updated 15 April 2013, 17 September 2013, 15 March 2015, 1 September 2017, 28 December 2019, 4 December 2021)