When we first observed this insect we thought that a double-headed caterpillar had been discovered. On closer examination, we realised that the structure at the lower end of the caterpillar was a “pseudo-head” that came complete with eye-spots to confuse predators.
This colourful and confusing caterpillar is the larvae of Neola semiaurata, the Wattle Moth. When upset the caterpillar raises both head and tail. This reveals the rear eye spots that are normally hidden under folds in the skin. The Wattle Moth caterpillar grows to a length of about six centimetres and is pink-brown with decorative spots. The body is covered with short hairs that may cause skin irritation.
Neola semiaurata, as the common name implies, feeds on Acacia foliage.
In our cold climate garden, we have observed caterpillars feeding on Acacia baileyana “Purpurea”, A. filicifolia and A. spectabilis. The caterpillar illustrated was feeding on A. spectabilis foliage. Apparently Dodonaea viscosa (Hop Bush) foliage is sometimes favoured as a source of food.
The larvae pupate in cocoons in the ground litter at the base of food plants.
The adult moth is not as attractive as its caterpillar. The fore-wings are speckled, dark grey with pale orange hind-wings. The moth has a wingspan of about six centimetres.
The Wattle Moth occurs in Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria and Tasmania. The species belongs to the Notodontidea family.
The caterpillar is a spectacular insect and is usually solitary. They do very little damage to plants so no control is necessary. In the past 15 years, at Yallaroo, we have only observed three or four Wattle Moth Caterpillars.