A great egret looks for breakfast at Calamvale Creek


Scientific stuff

Australasian privet hawk moth caterpillar

Psilogramma menephron
also Macrosila jordana
Family: Sphingidae
Superfamily: Bombycoidea
Order: Lepidoptera

Large green caterpillar with straight dark horn on tail and seven white diagonal stripes on each side of its body.

The stripes are shaped like small long leaves with a stem.

One outer edge of each stripe looks like a shadow, and is coloured like the caterpillar's straight tail-horn — somewhat dark plum or brownish.

The last stripe runs into the horn on the tail.

The caterpillar's head is covered in tiny white bumps.

6 or 7 centimetres
(2 to 3 inches).

Introvert. Likes to blend into background.

Using our photos

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Cate's photos

Green privet hawk moth caterpillars can be extremely difficult to see.

They blend in so well with the leaves of the plants they feed on that you are more likely to notice the missing leaves they have eaten than the caterpillars themselves.

The photographer said:

“Cate the caterpillar was one of four privet hawk moth caterpillars on a shrub.

“In fact, these caterpillars had me totally confused, because not only were they difficult to see, but the number of them seemed to change from day to day.

“At first there were two, so I photographed them.

“Next day I could find only one, and on subsequent days they varied from one to three.

“Eventually two went off somewhere to turn into moths, and after a few more days the one left behind had another companion.

“Shortly after this, one died. Finally the last moth disappeared. I tried to see where they went so I could photograph the moths when they emerged, but unfortunately I wasn't present at the birth.”

Critters of Calamvale Creek

Cate, the privet hawk moth caterpillar

Psilogramma menephron

privet_hawk_moth_caterpillar_1 (23K)

Greetings, leaf lovers. I am Cate, a privet hawk moth caterpillar from Calamvale Creek in Brisbane, Australia. I've been asked to tell you a little about myself, so here goes.

What do I eat?

Psilogramma_menephron-3 (24K)I'm not really an outgoing type, preferring not to be noticed as I devour your plants.

I'm affectionately called a pest when olive tree growers find me munching on their olive trees. But I'm more often found on privet, jasmine, and a few other types of plants.

It makes sense to call me a privet hawk moth caterpillar, because privet plants are where I am normally found.

But our mothers seem to know what's best for us, and may lay their eggs on Japanese honeysuckle, trumpet creepers, snapdragons, cotoneaster, or pagoda plants.

My whole purpose in life is to eat. I just have to grow and grow until it's time to turn from my larval stage to the pupal stage. To help me turn into a healthy pupa, I may eat dozens of small leaves each day.

Is my tail-horn dangerous?

privet_hawk_moth_caterpillar_2 (22K)The horn near my tail — called a dorsal horn — looks like a stinger. But it is completely harmless. In fact, I am a peace-loving critter and am interested in only one thing — eating. (Like many people.)

The most dangerous thing I do when you upset me is to move my head away from the leaf (as in the photo at left).

Why do I do this?

Well, I think it makes me even harder to detect among the leaves, and it may make a predator think I'm dead and so leave me alone.

What happens when I mature?

When I am fully grown — which means I have eaten so many leaves that I'm about to burst — I toddle off from my larder of leaves and try to find a nice place to pupate. What that means, boys and girls, is that I go into the second of three stages in my life. I turn from a caterpillar (first stage) into a pupa (an inactive second stage), before emerging as a dull grey mottled adult privet hawk moth. It's like being a teenager I guess.

Where do I pupate?

privet_hawk_moth_caterpillar_4 (18K)I will pupate under loose leaves or tree bark or some other stuff that falls to the ground and no one is likely to look under.

I'm not sure what happened to the caterpillar in the photo at right. He was happily munching leaves beside me one day, then he went all funny. Maybe he tried to pupate too early, or maybe he ate so much he exploded. In any case, he doesn't look well.

What will I look like as an adult?

When I emerge as an adult privet hawk moth, I will have lost my beautiful green colour, and will then be a dreary grey, with a dark grey zigzag pattern on me.

I can't show you a photo of me in my moth clothes because it hasn't happened yet.

Psilogramma_menephron_5 (18K)

Being a female adult privet hawk moth is not very exciting. We don't have colourful garments, everyone says we are too big, and people complain when our eggs hatch and the new caterpillars eat their ornamental plants.

It's a little better being a male privet hawk moth. They have this great way of creating a hissing sound by rubbing various parts of their body together. Or was that just the guy next to me exploding?

— Cate the caterpillar