Chrysodeixis argentifera (Guenée, 1852)
Tobacco Looper
(one synonym : Plusia secundaria Walker, [1858])
Don Herbison-Evans
Stella Crossley

Caterpillars of this species are semi-loopers because some of their ventral prolegs are reduced and this makes them move looper fashion, like the caterpillars of GEOMETRIDAE.

(Photo: courtesy of David Akers, Won Wron, Victoria)

The caterpillars are green with a darker green line along the back, bordered by two light stripes. Their sides are marked with white parallel lines, and sometimes a row of black spots.

(Photo: courtesy of Merlin Crossley, Melbourne, Victoria)

Caterpillars reared from the same batch of eggs differ in their degree of spotting. Each spot is actually at the base of a hair. These hairs are found on the thorax and on the first seven abdominal segments, just above and in front of a spiracle, or on a level with hairs on segments with spiracles. The spots may be in various forms: solid black extending to the base of the hair, or a black circle around a green base to the hair, or a solid black semicircle, or absent altogether. In the latter two cases, the hairs are smaller!

The caterpillar is an agricultural pest at times, attacking:

  • Sunflowers ( Helianthus annuus, ASTERACEAE ),
  • Canola ( Brassica napus, BRASSICACEAE ),
  • Silver Beet ( Beta vulgaris cicla, CHENOPODIACEAE ),
  • Beans ( Phaseolus vulgaris, FABACEAE ), and
  • Tomato ( Lycopersicum esculentum, SOLANACEAE ).

    Indeed, tomato plants purchased from the local nursereyman have been the source of some of our specimens.

    The caterpillars also attack garden plants such as:

  • Forget-me-not ( Myosotis arvensis, BORAGINACEAE ),
  • Regal Pelargoniums ( Pelargonium X domesticum, GERANIACEAE ),
  • Basil ( Ocimum basilicum, LAMIACEAE ), and
  • Piggyback Plant ( Tolmiea menziesii, SAXIFRAGACEAE ).

    The caterpillars grow to a length of about 4 cms.

    camouflaged cocoon
    (Photo: Don Herbison-Evans, Manly, New South Wales)

    The pupa develops inside a soft white silky cocoon. This is spun on the underside of a leaf and covered in bits of leaf and droppings. The adult emerges after a pupal duration of about two to three weeks in summer.

    The adult moth is predominently brown in colour, with bunched hairs on its head which look like a short pair of horns. On each forewing is a silvery distorted, sometimes disconnected,figure of eight, and a much smaller silver 'S'. This silver 'S' distinguishes it from the related species: Chrysodeixis eriosoma, which is otherwise very similar. They both have a wingspan of about 3 cms. Some adults had grey patches adorning their forewings. The hindwings are fawn in colour with a dark brown terminal area. The pheromones of this species have been identified.

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

    The moth has an unusual natural posture. Unlike most moth species which seem to try to flatten themselves against the the surface on which they are resting, moths of this species seem to make themselves as narrow as possible.

    (Photo: courtesy of Joan Fearn, Moruya, New South Wales)

    The eggs are white and spherical. They are laid separately on leaves of a foodplant.

    (Photo: Don Herbison-Evans, Manly, New South Wales)

    The species occurs rarely in

  • New Guinea,
  • New Zealand,

    and commomly over the whole of Australia, including

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

    Further reading :

    Ian F.B. Common,
    Moths of Australia,
    Melbourne University Press, 1990, fig. 48.15, pp. 43-44, 65, 459.

    Achille Guenée,
    in Boisduval & Guenée:
    Histoire naturelle des insectes; spécies général des lépidoptères,
    Volume 9, Part 6, Section 1 (1852), pp. 352-353, No. 1186.

    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), p. 170.

    Peter Marriott & Marilyn Hewish
    Moths of Victoria - Part 9,
    Cutworms and Allies - NOCTUOIDEA (C)
    Entomological Society of Victoria, 2020, pp. 6-9.

    Buck Richardson,
    Tropical Queensland Wildlife from Dusk to Dawn Science and Art,
    LeapFrogOz, Kuranda, 2015, p. 166.

    Australian Butterflies
    Australian Moths

    (updated 2 September 2012, 22 May 2023)