White-stemmed gum moth caterpillar.
White-stemmed gum moth
Adult white-stemmed gum moths are one of the largest species of moth in eastern Australia and often only seen when attracted to lights at night.
29 June 2006 | Updated 14 October 2011
The white-stemmed gum moth, Chelepteryx collesi is a native species and can be found in eucalypt forests and woodlands of south-eastern mainland Australia. They are common in Victoria, the Australian Capital Territory, eastern New South Wales and south-eastern Queensland.
Adult white-stemmed gum moths are patterned in wavy bands of grey and brown. They are active at night and usually only seen when attracted to lights.
Female adult white-stemmed gum moths have a wingspan of up to 16 centimetres, while males are usually smaller and darker.
Sharp bristles protect the pupating caterpillar from predators but when touched stick into the skin causing irritation.
Caterpillars of white-stemmed gum moths grow to between 10 and 12 centimetres in length. They are grey and white in colour with tufts of reddish bristles, which are left sticking out of the long, tapered cocoons when they pupate.
White-stemmed gum moth caterpillars feed on eucalypt leaves from winter through to summer. Mature caterpillars often come down from trees in January and February to wander, crossing roads and entering gardens in search of a place to pupate.
Cocoons appear on tree trunks, walls and even in letterboxes. They are also covered in bristles which are forced out through the silk by the caterpillar.
The adult moths emerge on autumn nights to mate and lay their eggs on eucalypt leaves.
Pest status and management
White-stemmed gum moth caterpillars consume quantities of gum leaves but are never abundant enough to be significant pests. Control is neither practical nor necessary.
More important medically, the bristles of caterpillars and those of the cocoon break off when touched. The bristles easily penetrate skin, causing irritation and occasionally an allergic reaction.
Learn more with Australian moths online: a photo gallery.
If you're interested in reading more about lepidopterism (the adverse effects from moths and butterflies) you might like to read:
Mulvaney JK, Gatenby PA, Brookes JG. 1998. Lepidopterism: two cases of systemic reactions to the cocoon of a common moth, Chelepteryx collesi. Medical Journal of Australia. Jun 15. 168(12):610-1.