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The beauty is in the detail

February 23, 2013
Emperor Gum Moth caterpillar

Emperor Gum Moth caterpillar

Adult butterflies and moths have to be the prima-donnas of the insect world. Their gaudy, sometimes iridescent wings combined with their graceful flight inspire comparisons of grace and beauty. But spare a thought for the young butterflies – the caterpillars. Fat, sometimes hairy and almost always maligned for destroying vegetation, what appear to be gross creatures, when examined in detail, are just as beautiful as the later adult.

Take the Emperor Gum Moth caterpillar (Opodiphthera eucalypti) for example. This caterpillar feeds on eucalyptus leaves but will eat leaves of introduced species such as Silver Birch (Betula pendula), Liquidambar (Liquidambar styraciflua) and Peppercorn Tree (Schinus molle). Upon hatching, the caterpillar is black but changes its colour several times before pupating, then emerging as a moth. In its final stage, from a distance, the caterpillar looks like a distended lime green slug, but closer examination reveals a creature covered with magnificent orange and yellow turrets topped with blue and purple spines.

Orchard Swallowtail caterpillar

Orchard Swallowtail caterpillar

Also pictured for your wonderment are the Orchard (or Citrus) Swallowtail Butterfly caterpillar (Papilio aegeus) feeding on a Mexican Orange Blossom (Choisya ternata) and the Chlenais Moth caterpillar (Chlenias banksiaria).

So next time you find a caterpillar munching away on your choice plants and shrubs, have a close look at it and admire the detail – before you squash it.

Chlenais Moth caterpillar

Chlenais Moth caterpillar

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