Caught and Coloured: Zoology Illustrations from Colonial Victoria

Saunders' Case-Moth, Metura elongatus

Image Details
  • Plate Number: 40
  • Media: Drawing - Pencil, water colour and varnish on paper
  • Lithographer: Arthur Bartholomew
  • Location: Australia, Victoria, Richmond Park
  • Primary inscriptions: 29th April 1861 / C / Veins forked at extremity
  • Secondary inscriptions: Add Black [figure numbers]
Transcript from the Prodromus of Zoology

Plate 40, Figures 7-15. Lictor Case-Moth, Entometa ignobilis (now known as the Faggot Case Moth, Clana ignobilis)

The cases of this species are so excessively abundant that scarcely a tree in the colony can be found without many of them hanging from it. They chiefly frequent the Eucalypti or so-called Gum-trees, but are also common on many others of the most diverse botanical characters. At least ten thousand of this species can be found to one of any of the other of the Case-Moths or House-builder Moths as they are often called. The name Lictor-Moth is suggested by the resemblance of the case to the fasces or bundles of rods borne by the lectors of old before the Roman magistrates.

Plate 40, Figures 1-6. Saunders' Case-Moth, Metura elongata (now known as Oiketicus elongatus)

The larvae and cases of this species far exceed any of the others in size, and when, as last year, they are unusually abundant they attract the attention of the most incurious observer. The larvæ are found indifferently not only on a great variety of native trees, but on a singular variety of imported foreign trees and shrubs in the gardens round Melbourne. The size of the Victorian specimens is slightly less than that of the New South Wales examples, but I do not think there is any specific difference.

Plate 40. Saunders' Case-Moth, Metura Elongata, and The Lictor Case-Moth, Entometa ignobilis (now known as Oiketicus elongatus Saunders, and the Faggot Case Moth, Clana ignobilis) found in Richmond Park

The extraordinary insects figured on this plate are amongst the most curious and striking of the "common objects" in Australia, meeting the eye everywhere, from the abundance of the conspicuous protecting sacks or cases which the larvae construct and carry about with them, hanging to the trees in all directions, fixed by the uppermost anterior end and swinging loose otherwise.

A young friend, walking with me in Richmond Park the first evening I arrived in the colony, collected a number of these cases from the trees and as they were too strong and tough to be opened, and were perfectly closed, it was taken for granted they were cocoons containing pupæ only, when put in his pocket; and no more was thought of the matter until they created a commotion in the drawing-room soon after by crawling actively out over the head and dress of my inquisitive friend; none of the older residents in the room having ever seen the living larvæ, or suspected their existence in the well-known cases-so vigilant and timid are the caterpillars in retreating at the approach of danger.

I have no doubt that a various curious observation of Mr. Kershaw, one of the Taxidermists in the Melbourne National Museum, is perfectly true as applied to some at least of the species of these Case-bearing Moths, namely, that the female imago never emerges from the pupa case at all, but this hardened covering splitting open for a short distance at the posterior end allows of all the functions necessary for the continuance of the species, and immense numbers of young are brought forth, not in the egg state, as hitherto supposed for all moths, but as exceedingly minute perfect larvæ. In confirmation of this unexpected discovery, I may mention that no eggs are ever found in the cases of the species observed in their colony, and the myriads of young produced by each female may be observed emerging in a continuous stream as minute larvæ, under circumstances which render it impossible to suppose that eggs could have been deposited.