Caterpillars: especially Australian ones
Did you know:
- Caterpillars have several thousand muscles (humans only have about 500)
- Caterpillars from the family TORTRICIDAE can move backwards faster than they can move forwards.
- Caterpillars from most species in the family SPHINGIDAE have a wicked-looking spine on the tail, but it is in fact entirely harmless.
- Caterpillars from species in the genus Doratifera have pockets of stinging spines that they evert when they feel threatened. These caterpillars are often called Spitfires, but they do not actually spit.
- When threatened, caterpillars of species in the family PAPILIONIDAE evert a pair of horns from behind the head which produce a pungent aromatic smell, but which are entirely harmless.
- Caterpillars from species in the genus Triodes feed on poisonous plants, and accumulate the poisons in their body making them poisonous to predators like birds.
- Whilst most species of caterpillars feed on leaves, some burrow into the soil feeding on roots, some bore into trees eating the wood, and caterpillars of the moth Argyrotoxa pompica feed on Koala droppings.
- The caterpillars of some species will eat nearly any leaves put in front of them, and some eat only plants of one family, but caterpillars of Leptocnaria reducta will eat only leaves from the Cape Lilac Tree (Melia azedarach).
- The female moths of the Australian species Teia anartoides have no wings, and the species disperses by the young caterpillars making an open gossamer sail out of silk, and sailing away on it in the wind.
The fauna and the flora of Australia are very different from those in the rest of the world, and this is just as true of the Caterpillars as it is of the better known Marsupials. With the short history of European influence in Australia and only a small population, only a limited amount of work has been done on naming and identifying the various species. At a recent count, Australia was home to about 370 described and named species of butterflies, about 10,000 described and named species of moths, and with probably as many moth species again yet to be described.
Of course, the Australian Aborigines knew a great deal about Australian Lepidoptera, and they used several species as sources of food, for example:
Most insect taxonomy and identification has been performed on the adult insect forms, the imagos. This makes the identification of caterpillars difficult. So, only a small percentage of the Australian Lepidoptera have known caterpillars. An even smaller number of these have been photographed, and fewer still are on the web. In an attempt to improve this situation, we have created these webpages with all the pictures and links we can find about caterpillars that occur in Australia. The pictures come from ourselves and many colleagues, from a wide variety of sources, and are of very varied quality. We are still adding more pictures, so watch the number at the head of this webpage.
These webpages would not be so extensive but for the help of many friends and colleagues, whom we feature on our special
We have a separate webpage for each species, and links to these are available from a webpage for each family as a thumbnail picture and a highlighted name. The families are linked from one webpage for the moths and one for the butterflies. We have included lots of pictures of the adult butterflies and moths also, even if we had no caterpillar pictures for those species. In these cases, our thumbnail pictures show only an adult. For some species we have found no pictures at all, but only some descriptive text. In these cases, we show only a bullet by the name, and the name is highlighted as the link. Some species have been illustrated on Australian postage stamps, and some more widespread species of Australian butterflies and Australian moths have appeared on overseas stamps.
We have tried to include links for the known food plants of the caterpillars. However, we only list those we have observed, those we have been told about, and those reported in the literature. In principle, the caterpillars might feed on anything when nobody is looking.