Uresiphita ornithopteralis (Guenée, 1854)
Tree Lucerne Moth
(previously known as : Mecyna ornithopteralis)
Don Herbison-Evans,
Stella Crossley

Uresiphita ornithopteralis
(Photo: courtesy of Kristine Hendry, Apsley, Victoria)

This Caterpillar has sparse hairs and is multicoloured: being basically green with yellow stripes along the sides, and black and white spots all over. It has a prominent brown head capsule, with three white stripes on its black collar. It has been found for many years, regularly every year, in a suburban garden in Manly (Sydney, New South Wales) on a particular bush of:

  • English Broom ( Cytisus scoparius, FABACEAE ),

    which is stripped by the brood of Caterpillars. It also has been found feeding on other species of FABACEAE such as:

  • Montpellier Broom ( Genista monspessulana ),
  • Purple Pea ( Hovea species ), and
  • Cocky's Tongues ( Templetonia retusa ).

    Uresiphita ornithopteralis
    (Photo: courtesy of Jan MacDonald, Apsley, Victoria)

    Thus the caterpillar is an important controlling agent of Broom infestations. However, the caterpillar is also an agricultural pest on:

  • commercial legumes (such as Peas and Beans).

    The caterpillars grow to a length of about 3.5 cms.

    Uresiphita ornithopteralis
    (Photo: courtesy of the Macleay Museum, University of Sydney)

    When fully grown, our specimen in Sydney burrowed into the soil at the foot of the foodplant, and there pupated inside a papery dense white cocoon. Another specimen in Melbourne climbed up its container and pupated near the lid. The adult moth emerged after about four weeks in autumn in Melbourne, and then took nearly two days to extend its wings fully.

    Uresiphita ornithopteralis
    brown form
    (Photo: courtesy of the Joan Fearn, Moruya, New South Wales)

    The adult moth appears in two basic forms. In the eastern states of Australia, it has dark brown forewings, and bright yellow hind wings with a black border.

    In South Australia and Western Australia, the forewings are darker and have a broad pale sumarginal band.

    Uresiphita ornithopteralis
    grey form
    (Photo : courtesy of Lorraine Jenkins, Port Lincoln, South Australia)

    The wingspan is about 3 cms. The labial palps on the head are lengthened and stretched out, and look like a birds beak.

    Uresiphita ornithopteralis
    brown form
    (Photo: courtesy of CSIRO/BIO Photography Group, Centre for Biodiversity Genomics, University of Guelph)

    The species is found in :

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

    It is closely related to the overseas pest species : Uresiphita gilvata.

    The variations in behaviour and colour suggest that the Australian specimens under the name Uresiphita ornithopteralis are actually a species complex, and further work may show how to distinguish them.

    Uresiphita ornithopteralis
    grey form
    (Photo : courtesy of Katherine Chuk, Perth, Western Australia)

    Curiously, the underside in the natural posture looks like a face (with quite a long nose).

    Uresiphita ornithopteralis
    underside looking like a face
    grey form
    (Photo : courtesy of Katherine Chuk, Perth, Western Australia)

    Further reading :

    Ian F.B. Common,
    Moths of Australia,
    Melbourne University Press, 1990, pls. 9.33, 26.6, pp. 67, 358.

    Achille Guenée,
    Deltoïdes et Pyralites,
    in Boisduval & Guenée :
    Histoire naturelle des insectes; spécies général des lépidoptères,
    Volume 9, Part 8 (1854), p. 411, No. 535, and also Plate 8, No. 12.

    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. 87.

    Australian Butterflies
    Australian Moths

    (updated 30 August 2012, 18 September 2013, 27 October 2015, 29 September 2018, 21 March 2019, 23 September 2020)