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Is that a gun in your pocket?

November 2, 2021

Cup moths are so named because of the shape of their cocoons. Their caterpillars feed on new gum leaves and are therefore rarely seen because they are usually in the uppermost reaches of eucalypts where the new growth is. However after a storm like the one we had last week there is a good chance some of these caterpillars will be found on the ground having been dislodged by the wind. Pictured below is a Painted Cup Moth (Doratifera oxleyi) caterpillar found last week in these circumstances. This species is found predominantly in central NSW but is also found in Victoria (obviously), South Australia and Tasmania. The larvae feed on River Red Gum leaves (E. camaldulensis).

For protection the caterpillar can deploy spines, that in some species are loaded with irritant liquid. The spines are kept in pockets on the front and back of the caterpillar. The larva pictured above, has eight such pockets, four at the front and four at the back each containing yellow spines. In the picture the spines at the back are partially everted – only mildly annoyed! When very annoyed the caterpillar can erect all eight spine clusters from their pockets (picture left).

Not a gun in the pocket but a weapon none the less.

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