Introducing The Case Moth Caterpillar

If you live in Australia, especially on the Eastern side, you may have seen one of these weird cocoons seeming to move by itself across the ground, or climbing a tree. I can remember seeing these for years, but not quite as big as this one. Down South, they are usually about 5, maybe 6 centimetres long. Even the articles online suggest they grow ‘up to’ 15cm. This one is a full 20cm long:

20cm long Case Moth cocoon

20cm long Case Moth cocoon

They are made by the caterpillar of the Case Moth Metura elongatus. Well, I think this is that one. There are over 1350 different species of the family Psychidae, with 350 of them native to Australia  The inside of these constructions are soft silk, spun by the caterpillar. It then stripes twigs, or even uses sand to protect and camouflage its cocoon.There are many varieties of the Case Moth, with different types using different materials.

The caterpillar builds its case from the head end. So, as it grows bigger, it has to attach more, and larger twigs. These cases a very strong. The twigs themselves are incorporated into the silk by the caterpillar cutting a slit in the inside, temporarily attaching a twig to the outside bforehand. Then they go inside and pull the twig into position from the inside, then sealing the slit again. The process of cutting the slit alone can take an hour. The caterpillar lives in this case for up to Two years. If threatened, they will seal the entrance and wait until the threat passes before cutting their way out of the sealed entrance. The female moth usually continues to use the case after it morphs. However, the males abandon theirs.

I think this one is a work of art. The symmetry of the case and the elegant frill around the case entrance is amazing. I’ve put a lot of images in this post, because there seems to be a lack of good images of these caterpillars around the Web. Maybe a student will see this while researching for a project or something.

The Case Moth caterpillar

The Case Moth caterpillar

The caterpillar looks tough and leathery, but they’re actually quite fragile things.

Caseworm-03

Caseworm-05

The following four shots can be saved and stitched with one of those panorama type tools if you like. Caseworm-06

Caseworm-02

Caseworm-07 Caseworm-08Once I’d taken some photos of this one, I released it next to our Eucalyptus Torelliana tree. It proceeded to climb, and after 2 hours, it was about 3 metres up the trunk.

Looking down on the caterpillar as it climbs the tree

Looking down on the caterpillar as it climbs the tree

Caseworm-10For more information about Case Moths, see the following links:

http://museumvictoria.com.au/discoverycentre/discovery-centre-news/2009-archive/case-moths/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Metura_elongatus

For a fact Sheet in PDF format, paste this link into your web browser:
http://www.qm.qld.gov.au/Learning+Resources/~/media/Documents/Learning%20resources/QM/Resources/Fact%20Sheets/fact-sheet-case-moths.pdf

 

 

 

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3 thoughts on “Introducing The Case Moth Caterpillar

  1. Hi,

    This may be Plutorectis mjobergi (check out Don Herbison-Evans Australian Psychid larvae website). If so, it can get to ~30 cm long!., and is perhaps the worlds largest Psychid sp. Apparently the larva feeds on mahogeny gum, and Im not sure if adult has ever been seen.

    Hoover

    Like

    • Hi Ian. Sorry for my late reply. I get lost and forget to check. Thanks for this information. Yes, this is the largest one I’ve seen. I use to see many of the smaller ones further South.

      Like

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