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Meet the Camouflaged Champions of Iron-grass Native Grasslands

News release
17 February 2023
Meet the Camouflaged Champions of Iron-grass Native Grasslands

Meet the common leaf case moth, less commonly known by its official scientific name Hyalarcta huebneri. Our intrepid ecologists recently captured brilliant footage of this unsung hero of the grassland ecosystem during an outing at the Callington Native Grassland Reserve.

These curious creatures create a kind of sleeping bag out of tiny pieces of vegetation that they collect while fossicking among grasslands for food. Once they are completely covered with organic matter, their sleeping bags provide an effective camouflaged shield that prevents them from being seen and eaten by predators, and also serves an essential developmental service.

As well as being particularly inventive, case moth caterpillars are adept at dragging their mobile homes around with them as they search for food and a suitable place to pupate. These skilled climbers will scale virtually any type of surface including rocks and trees in search for the perfect spot.

The common leaf case moth caterpillar

When ready to turn into their moth form, their case becomes the laboratory for the process known as pupating. The caterpillar attaches one end of their protective cocoon to a surface with a silk string, allowing them to hang before completing their transition to becoming a moth. This process can take between several weeks and several months, and while the male will emerge with wings and an antenna, the female of the species is wingless and remains in her case for life.

Often overlooked, caterpillars and moths provide a range of beneficial ecosystem services to ecological communities including:

  • Being a source of food for other wildlife – insects, spiders, frogs, lizards, birds and bats.
  • As ‘shredders’ of organic materials which enriches soil health by converting debris into humus.
  • Moths are effective pollinators and nectar fossickers, which aids seed production, and
  • By feeding on other invertebrates, moths undertake a natural form of pest control.

Watch the video to see the common leaf case month caterpillar emerge from its case as it fossicks around the vegetation and find out more about our Iron-grass Native Grasslands project here.

This project is supportedby the Murraylands and Riverland Landscape Board through funding from theAustralian Government's National Landcare Program and the landscape levy.