The Australian Striped Hawk Moth (Hyles livornicoides), whose larvae are known as the Yeperenye Caterpillar is a sacred totemic ancestral being for the Arrernte people of Alice Springs in Central Australia.
It is a colourful caterpillar, being either bright to dark green, brown or black. The adult moth has brown forewings with white markings, that include a prominent white stripe. The hindwings are brown, each with a broad diagonal pink stripe.
The local name for the caterpillar is ‘Ayepe-arenye‘, anglicised as ‘Yeperenye‘ or ‘Yipirinya‘. The prefix ‘Ayepe‘ is the local name for the Tar Vine plant, the primary food of the caterpillar in Alice Springs.
It has been said that the caterpillar needs a particular kind of rain to emerge. They then spend all their time feeding on a sticky groundcover called tar-vine, after which they go underground where they cocoon to emerge as moths.
Whilst the Hyles livornicoides are totemic creatures in Central Australia, the caterpillar itself has also been used at food by the local Aboriginal people prior to European settlement. They would gather the caterpillar from the tar-vine, and then squeeze the guts out into a little hole in the ground, covering the hole up (as they were sacred caterpillars). The body of the caterpillar would then be cooked in hot ashes. They are said to be like crispy chips.
The Yeperenye is one of three caterpillar species associated with Arrernte creation stories. The other is the Ntyarlke and the Utnerrengatye.
The larvae has also been known to feed on Portulaca oleracea (also commonly known as pigweed, purslane, munyeroo), Boerhavia diffusa (commonly known as punarnava, spreading hogweed, tarvine), Boerhavia schomburgkiana (tar-vine) and Tribulus terrestris (bindii).
As well as Central Australia and the Northern Territory, the caterpillar and moth can also be found in New South Wales, Victoria, Western Australia and Queensland.
The Yeperenye is also known associated and named after various buildings (the Yeperenye Shopping Centre), sculptures and street art in Alice Springs.
- Scientific classification
- Kingdom: Animalia
- Phylum: Arthropoda
- Class: Insecta
- Order: Lepidoptera
- Family: Sphingidae
- Genus: Hyles
- Species: H. livornicoides
- Binomial name: Hyles livornicoides
Footnote & References
- Australian Caterpillars and their Butterflies and Moths – Hyles livornicoides – Australian Striped Hawk Moth, Don Herbison-Evans and Stella Crossley.
- ABC Local: Sacred caterpillars plentiful after the rain, by Emma Sleath, 8 February 2015, https://www.abc.net.au/local/stories/2015/02/05/4174922.htm
- Alice Springs News: Caterpillars as big as a mountain are starving, by Kieran Finnane, 17 January 2017, https://alicespringsnews.com.au/2017/01/17/caterpillars-as-big-as-a-mountain-are-starving/
- Indigenous Architecture: The Yeperenye (Ayepe-arenye) caterpillar is the most important of the three caterpillars, 20 January 2014, Facebook.com/IndigenousArchitecture/posts/the-yeperenye-ayepe-arenye-caterpillar-is-the-most-important-of-the-three-caterp