Kawakawa looper - Cleora scriptaria
By N A Martin (2016, revised 2017)
Tephrosia scriptaria Walker, 1860
Scotosia stigmaticata Walker, 1862
Scotosia panagrata Walker, 1862
Barsine panagrata (Walker, 1862)
Selidosema panagrata (Walker, 1862)
Angerona menanaria Walker, 1963
Epirranthis antipodaria Felder, 1875
Hyperythra arenacea Butler, 1879
Hyperythra desiccate Butler, 1879
Biostatus and Distribution
This endemic moth is found throughout New Zealand. The green or brown caterpillars feed on young leaves of its favoured host plant, kawakawa, Piper excelsum (Piperaceae) and other native trees and shrubs in native ecosystems, parks, gardens and forests.
Conservation status: Widespread, not threatened.
Life Stages and Annual Cycle
Caterpillars are found all year. The moths can also be found throughout the year.
The moths are about 10-15 mm long with a wing span of 30-55 mm. The appearance of the moths is very variable, hence the many synonyms (alternative scientific names). Moths have mottled yellow-brown, brown or blackish forewings with irregular cross-lines and scalloped edges; in darker forms, there are often yellowish patches on the wing. There is usually a conspicuous more or less kidney-shaped spot near the middle of each forewing; this spot may be white, grey or black, but is always outlined in black. In the daytime the moths rest on tree trunks and amongst dead leaves and dead tree fern fronds, their colouring and scalloped wing margins proving good camouflage.
The moth has two pairs of wings and three pairs of legs. The head has two dark compound eyes, two long antennae and a long rostrum that is normally coiled up. It is uncoiled when the moth feeds on nectar in flowers.
The newly emerged female moth emits a pheromone (mixture of volatile chemicals), that attract the male moth. Male moths have feathery antennae that have a large number of sensory cells for detecting chemicals in the air. After mating the moth lays between 40-50 eggs.
Eggs and caterpillars
Eggs are laid on leaves or stems of host plants in clusters of 3-12, and are pale green and cylindrical.
The caterpillar chews its way out of the egg. It feeds on young leaves. The young caterpillar is pale green, with a dark and/or white stripe down each side and usually makes holes in the centre of a leaf. The caterpillars grow by changing skins, moulting. They tend to orientate themselves along leaf veins and edges of leaves and lie flat against the leaf, where they are well camouflaged. They often become pale brown as they grow, and in later instars tend to hide between leaves or in crevices on the plant during daytime. An early entomologist, Hudson, reports in his 1928 book, that in winter he found caterpillars hiding in old burrows of puriri moth, Aenetus virescens (Hepiallidae). Caterpillars reach 30-40 mm long.
Like a typical looper caterpillar, it has three pairs of true legs on the thorax (middle part of body) and two pairs of prolegs (false legs) at its rear end. The caterpillar walks by looping along. It first brings its rear end up towards its front and holds on with its prolegs. Then it stretches forwards and holds on with its true legs while it again brings its rear end forwards, repeating the process. If disturbed, the caterpillar may drop from the leaf suspended on a silk thread.
When the caterpillar is fully grown, it descends to the ground and hides in the litter. It may create a cell in the loose debris on the soil. The caterpillar moults into a pupa. The pupa is brown with two slender processes at the end of the abdomen (the cremaster). The pupa splits on its dorsal side when the moth is ready to pull itself out. The newly emerged moth climbs up onto a support and hangs while the wings expand and harden.
The appearance of adult Kawakawa looper moths, Cleora scriptaria, is very variable. They have mottled brown wings with irregular lines and scalloped edges. There may be a pair of white dots near the front edge (costa) of the forewings. There is no white dot near the halfway point along the outer margin of the forewing. The start and endpoint of a black scalloped line on the forewing is also diagnostic. It starts on the front edge (costa) of the wing at about 2/3rds its length and then curves round and ends on the dorsal margin of the wing well beyond the halfway point.
Kawakawa looper moths could be confused with both Gellonia species (large umber, Gellonia dejectaria and small umber, Gellonia pannularia). Both umber moths can usually be distinguished from Kawakawa loopers by the presence of a white spot halfway down the outer margin of the forewing (no such spot in the kawakawa looper moth). In the umber moths, the black scalloped line on the upper side of the forewing that begins on the front edge (costa) of the wing at about 2/3rds its length curves round and ends halfway along the rear edge (dorsum). The equivalent line in the kawakawa moth ends on the dorsal margin of the wing well beyond the halfway point.
Kawakawa looper caterpillars are typical loopers with only two pairs of prolegs (false legs) at their hind end. They are variable in appearance. The caterpillars are mainly green, but can be brown. They tend to have a pale stripe down both sides and younger caterpillars may also have a dark lateral stripe. Unlike many looper caterpillars, those of the Kawakawa looper tend to lie flat on leaves rather than stand up like sticks.
Kawakawa looper is the most common caterpillar to make holes in leaves of kawakawa, Piper excelsum (Piperaceae). Some leafrollers (Tortricidae) also make holes in kawakawa leaves but these species always web leaves together to create shelters for themselves. Holes in kawakawa leaves that are not webbed together shows that Kawakawa looper are living in the habitat.
Upper side of Kawakawa looper, Cleora scriptaria (Lepidoptera: Geometridae); on the forewings the absence of a white spot halfway along the outer margin of the forewing and the start and end points of the black scalloped line (black arrows) distinguish this species from Gellonia species. Image: Tim Holmes © Plant & Food Research
Upper side of Kawakawa looper, Cleora scriptaria (Lepidoptera: Geometridae); note the white spot near the front edge (costa) of the forewing (red arrow) (this spot sometimes grey or black) and absence of a pair of white spots halfway along the outer margin of the forewing. Also note the start and end points of the black scalloped line (black arrows) distinguish this species from Gellonia species. Image: Tim Holmes © Plant & Food Research
Upper side of large umber, Gellonia dejectaria (Lepidoptera: Geometridae), moth; on the forewing, note the white spot (red arrow) and position of the start and end of the black scalloped line (black arrows), that distinguish this species from the Kawakawa looper, Cleora scriptaria. Image: Tim Holmes © Plant & Food Research
Parasites and parasitoids
A mermithid nematode (Mermithidae) has been found infesting a caterpillar and six parasitoids have been reared from caterpillars and pupae. One of these is a fly, Pales feredayi, (Diptera: Tachinidae), while the others are wasps. Two wasps have distinctive pupae. The larva of Meteorus pulchricornis (Hymenoptera: Braconidae) lives in a caterpillar. When the wasp larva is fully grown it leaves the caterpillar, attaches a thread to the leaf, then drops on this thread and weaves it about itself until it forms a pea like cocoon. The larva of a second wasp, Aleiodes declanae (Hymenoptera: Braconidae) also lives in the caterpillar, which it kills before it is fully grown. The caterpillar is made to hold onto the leaf by its front legs and the wasp pupates inside the caterpillar skin. It looks as if the front end of the caterpillar is glued to the leaf while the body projects out like a stick.
|Scientific Name||Common Name||Classification||Enemy Type||Reliability Index||Biostatus|
|Mermithidae sp||(Eelworm)||Mermithida: Mermithidae||parasite||5||endemic|
|Cardiastethus consors White, 1879||(Sucking bug)||Hemiptera: Anthocoridae||predator||4||endemic|
|Cermatulus nasalis (Woodward, 1837)||Brown soldier bug (Sucking bug)||Hemiptera: Pentatomidae||predator||4||native|
|Aleiodes declanae van Achterberg, 2005||(Wasp)||Hymenoptera: Braconidae||parasitoid||10||endemic|
|Casinaria sp.||(Wasp)||Hymenoptera: Ichneumonidae||parasitoid||7||unknown|
|Diadegma sp.||(Wasp)||Hymenoptera: Ichneumonidae||parasitoid||7||unknown|
|Meteorus pulchricornis (Wesmael, 1835)||Basket-cocoon wasp (Wasp)||Hymenoptera: Braconidae||parasitoid||10||adventive|
|Pales feredayi (Hutton, 1901)||(Fly)||Diptera: Tachinidae||parasitoid||10||endemic|
|Rogas sp.||(Wasp)||Hymenoptera: Braconidae||parasitoid||6||endemic|
|Zealachertus binarius Berry, 1999||(Wasp)||Hymenoptera: Eulophidae||parasitoid||10||endemic|
Caterpillars of the Kawakawa looper feed on young leaves of a variety of trees and shrubs. Small caterpillars make holes in leaves while large caterpillars mainly feed on the edge of leaves making notches.
|Common Name(s)||Scientific Name||Family||Reliability Index||Biostatus|
|New Zealand ash, Tapitapi, Tītoki, Tītongi, Tokitoki, Tongitongi, Topitopi||Alectryon excelsus Gaertn.||Sapindaceae||10||endemic|
|Wineberry, Mako, Makomako||Aristotelia serrata (J.R.Forst. & G.Forst.) W.R.B.Oliver||Elaeocarpaceae||10||endemic|
|Marble leaf, Motorbike tree, Kaiwētā, Piripiriwhata, Punawētā, Putaputawētā, Putawētā||Carpodetus serratus J.R.Forst. & G.Forst.||Rousseaceae||10||endemic|
|Tree tutu, Pūhou, Tāweku, Tūpākihi, Tutu||Coriaria arborea Linds.||Coriariaceae||10||endemic|
|Sticky hop-bush, ake, Ake rautangi, Akeake||Dodonaea viscosa Jacq. subsp. viscosa Jacq.||Sapindaceae||10||non-endemic|
|Eucalypt, Flowering gum, Gum, Stringybark||Eucalyptus sp.||Myrtaceae||7||unknown|
|Akakōpuka, Akapuka, Puka, Pukatea||Griselinia lucida G.Forst.||Griseliniaceae||10||endemic|
|Tree lupin||Lupinus arboreus Sims||Leguminosae||10||naturalised|
|Poataniwha, Tātaka||Melicope simplex A.Cunn.||Rutaceae||10||endemic|
|Puka, Puka, Pukanui||Meryta sinclairii Hook. f.) Seem.||Araliaceae||10||endemic|
|Ahikōmau, Hine-kaikōmako, Kahikōmako, Kaikōmako||Pennantia corymbosa J.R.Forst. & G.Forst.||Pennantiaceae||10||endemic|
|Pepper tree, Kawa, Kawakawa||Piper excelsum G.Forst.||Piperaceae||10||endemic|
|Five-finger, Houhou, Parapara, Puahou, Tauparapara, Whau, Whaupaku, Whauwhau, Whauwhaupaku||Pseudopanax arboreus (Murray) Phillipson||Araliaceae||10||endemic|
|Coastal five finger, Houmāpara, Houpara, Houparapara, Kokotai, Oho, Parapara, Whauwhau||Pseudopanax lessonii (DC.) K. Koch||Araliaceae||10||endemic|
|Lowland horopito, Lowland pepper tree, Horopito, Puhikawa||Pseudowintera axillaris (J.R.Forst. & G.Forst.) Dandy||Winteraceae||10||endemic|
|Alpine pepper tree, Mountain horopito, Pepper tree, Red horopito, Horopito, ōramarama, Ramarama||Pseudowintera colorata (Raoul) Dandy||Winteraceae||10||endemic|
|Seven-finger, Kohi, Kotētē, Patate, Patatē, Patē, Patētē||Schefflera digitata J.R.Forst. & G.Forst.||Araliaceae||10||endemic|
|Coastal kowhai||Sophora chathamica Cockayne||Leguminosae||10||endemic|
|Small leaved kowhai, Weeping kowhai, Kōwhai, Kōwhai maori||Sophora microphylla Aiton||Leguminosae||10||endemic|
|Large-leaved kowhai, North Island kowhai, Kōwhai||Sophora tetraptera J.S. Miller||Leguminosae||10||endemic|
Moth and caterpillars are good examples of camouflage. The moth resembles bark or dead leaves in its colouration and the scalloped wing edges help break up its outline when it is at rest. The young caterpillars are green like the leaves, while the older caterpillars are pale brown like twigs or dead leaves. These forms of camouflage by the moth and caterpillar presumably protect them against predation by birds.
Spiller DM, Wise KAJ 1982. A catalogue (1860-1960) of New Zealand insects and their host plants. DSIR Bulletin 231: 1-260.
Plant-SyNZ: Invertebrate herbivore-host plant association database. plant-synz.landcareresearch.co.nz/.
12 December 2016. NA Martin. Natural enemies: corrected biostatus of natural enemies.