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Grass anthelids

Agronomist, Luke Davison (Grass Growers Victoria), has reported very high numbers of grass anthelid caterpillars (Pterolocera sp.) in a pasture paddock near Camperdown, in the Western district of Victoria. Caterpillars were found across the whole paddock, with numbers as high as 25–30 per square metre observed in some areas. Luke says the damage was mostly confined to perennial ryegrass, while onion grass and clovers were largely unaffected. Ryegrass plants showed obvious signs of chewing damage, with some leaves completely lopped off. The extent of damage warranted chemical control.

Grass anthelid caterpillars feed on grasses and their numbers usually build up in pastures or roadside vegetation. In winter and early spring, they can move into paddocks and cause damage to pastures and crops. Species within the Pterolocera genus are not well understood, although the later instar larvae are generally the most damaging. Grass anthelids are a relatively minor pest of pastures, and occasionally cause damage to cereals. The moths have one generation per year. Late winter and early spring are the highest risk periods in Victoria and New South Wales.

Although there are many anthelid species, which differ in appearance, most grass anthelid caterpillars are brown or fawn in colour with black and yellow markings. They grow to 50 mm in length and spin a dark brown cocoon in a vertical shaft in the soil, with the exit just below the soil surface. Male adult moths are buff with brown markings and have very large antennae. Adult female moths are flightless.

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