The Hyles livornicoides goes through four stages in its life cycle, starting from the ovum or egg, larva or caterpillar, pupa or chrysalis, and finally the adult moth.
The caterpillar after hatching from an egg, goes through a number of instar stages. An instar is a larval development stage ie the stage following larval skin moult. The last part of the life cycle is when the moth emerges from the pupa.
Early instars of the Hyles livornicoides caterpillars are green with a dark dorsal line ending in a stumpy black tail spike.
Third and fourth instars develop black-edged orange eyespots along each side, joined by a pale line. The spiracles become white circled with black, each accompanied by smaller black-edged white spots.
The final instar caterpillars may be green, brown, or black. The tail spike becomes strongly curved backwards. The dorsal line may become white, sometimes with orange edges, or plain orange. The line through the eyespots becomes paler and wider, almost obliterating the eyespots.
Aborigines in central Australia used these caterpillars as food. Aborigines starved the caterpillars for a day or two before roasting them. The cooked larvae were said to have a pleasant savoury taste and could be stored for a long time. The caterpillars were a unique food source in the middle of the desert.
Through the thousands of years of Aboriginal culture, the caterpillars came to be regarded as sacred totems of the local Arrernte people.
The local name for this totemic caterpillar is ‘Ayepe-arenye’, often anglicised as ‘Yeperenye’ or ‘Yipirinya’. The prefix ‘Ayepe’ is the local name for the Tar Vine, which around Alice Springs, is the primary foodplant of the Hyles livornicoides caterpillar.
You can sometimes see the caterpillar searching for the Tar Vine. They are known to move very quickly.
Sadly this wild vine is being displaced around Alice Springs by the alien Buffel Grass (Cenchrus ciliaris), which Hyles livornicoides caterpillars cannot eat.
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