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  • Writer's pictureTerry

Solved: The mystery of an unknown caterpillar.......

Calcarifera ordinata

Wattle Cup Moth


We are not trained entomologists so when we came across an unknown caterpillar, its fantastic to be able to contact experts.


On the Sunday of February 28, 2021, we saw this amazing looking caterpillar, out in the bush, munching on a plant commonly called Dog Wood, Jacksonia scoparie.


Wattle Cup Moth (Calcarifera ordinata) caterpillar
Wattle Cup Moth (Calcarifera ordinata) caterpillar

We had no idea what this creature was and at the time could find no reference to it in field guide books or on the internet. This photo was sent to our naturalist friend, graphic artist and award-winning illustrator, Margaret Hodgson AOM. Margaret advised we send the images to entomologist Don Herbison-Evans from the Coffs Harbour Butterfly House.


This was Dons response:


"Beauty. Never seen one of those before.

Please take it into captivity to protect it from predators,

and rear it to get the adult moth.

Hopefully we can ID that.

Thanks,

Don"


The next day, March 1st 2021, we discovered two of these caterpillars and took one into captivity housing it in a large terrarium fish tank with a floor of sand, a piece of wood, a bowl of water and fresh Dog Wood to eat.


Wattle Cup Moth (Calcarifera ordinata) caterpillar
Wattle Cup Moth (Calcarifera ordinata) caterpillar

The caterpillar moved around, slug like, on the Dog Wood eating the leaves. Its approximately 30mm long and 15mm wide.



The caterpillar moved off the foliage and appeared to be trying to dig into the sand slightly changing its colour and shape.


Wattle Cup Moth (Calcarifera ordinata) caterpillar
Wattle Cup Moth (Calcarifera ordinata) caterpillar

On the 14th of March 2021, a cocoon formed attaching to the piece of wood under the surface of the sand. The cocoon is approximately 15mm long and 10mm wide. Nine months later this cup cocoon hatched.



What hatched, on the 21st of December 2021, was a stunningly beautiful moth approximately 20mm long.


Wattle Cup Moth (Calcarifera ordinata)
Wattle Cup Moth (Calcarifera ordinata)

After taking numerous photographs we released the moth onto the same plant in the bush where its caterpillar was taken. All our information, observations and photos had been sent to the Australian Museum through the ‘Ask An Expert’ portal.


On the 24th of March 2023 we had this response from the museums 'ask an expert team':


"The moth is indeed, Calcarifera ordinata. The Entomology Team writes,

The final instar is indeed spectacular, and unmistakable and the adult confirms it. Caterpillars change throughout each instar as you observed and identifying caterpillars without knowing the variations between each instar, scientists are hesitant to provide identifications to a species level. The best way to confirm a caterpillar identification is to raise it; very few full lifecycles of lepidopterans are known and studied so the images you have sent to us are very important.

Thank you for sharing your images with us; I have also shared them widely within the team as we were all interested as to what would emerge. Feel free to send the identification to Butterfly House."

Wattle Cup Moth (Calcarifera ordinata)
Wattle Cup Moth (Calcarifera ordinata)

Having catalogued our observations this has solved a mystery. On various nature websites there is a very different caterpillar associated with this moth. Only one other person has achieved our result of raising the same looking caterpillar to adulthood. We've shared the museums confirmation with the Butterfly House.


Magnified wing scales from the moth.

We’ve put our observations onto the iNaturalist website and have received positive interest, confirmation and support from the iNaturalist community.


Living here in the Australian bush is certainly a wonderful life. New discovery abounds. With thanks to the NSW Clarence Environment Centre we all continue to learn.


Land for Wildlife
Land for Wildlife

WE ACKNOWLEDGE THE BUNDJALUNG PEOPLE AS THE TRADITIONAL OWNERS OF THE LAND ON WHICH WE LIVE. WE HONOUR THE FIRST NATIONS PEOPLES CULTURE AND CONNECTION TO LAND, SEA AND COMMUNITY. WE PAY OUR RESPECTS TO THEIR ELDERS PAST, PRESENT AND EMERGING.










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1 Kommentar


Bruce Munro
Bruce Munro
05. Mai 2023

Wow, what a fabulous discovery, well done team. You should rightly be excited with this discovery!

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