This handsome caterpillar had the misfortune to be feeding on a branch of a non-native shrub (Allamanda sp.) in my Cranbrook garden when I lopped it off (the branch, not the caterpillar).
From the photograph it was identified as the larva of a species of Australian hawkmoth, probably Psilogramma increta. Click to enlarge the photo and you will see it has a strange horn-like structure at its tail-end (left). This looks rather like a sting but is quite harmless and as far as I can discover its purpose is unknown. (My theory is that it is a “fake sting” designed to warn off predatory birds). In this photo the caterpillar’s head, at right, is curled over and busily munching! Hawkmoth caterpillars burrow into leaf-litter or soil in order to pupate and, after a few days of feeding on fresh Allamanda leaves in a specially prepared box, this is what seems to have happened. I am unwilling to disturb it by probing beneath the surface of leaves and soil and I have no idea how long I might have to wait before I discover whether I provided the right conditions for its metamorphosis to succeed. The Museum suggested it might be “a few weeks”. I will let you know!
By coincidence, a couple of weeks earlier an adult hawkmoth had spent most of the day attached to my mailbox, undisturbed by the postie’s visit with a bundle of Christmas mail. This was unlikely to be the ‘parent’ of my caterpillar and might well have been a different species (either Psilogramma menephron or P. casuarinae) – all are in the Sphingidae family. Detailed examination is usually required in order to distinguish between several look-alike species.
My thanks go to Malcolm Tattersall and the Queensland Museum for suggested IDs and other information. Both also referenced this website which has a wealth of information and photographs of moths, butterflies and their caterpillars.
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