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Kawakawa looper - Cleora scriptaria

By N A Martin (2016, revised 2018)

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Click to collapse Classification Info






Cleora scriptaria (Walker, 1860)

Click to collapse Common names Info

Kawakawa looper, Kawakawa moth, Kawakawa Looper moth, Grey Evening Moth

Click to collapse Synonyms Info

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

Click to collapse Taxonomic notes Info

This moth is probably not a true Cleora.

Click to collapse Biostatus and distribution Info

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.

Click to collapse Life stages and annual cycle Info

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.

Click to collapse Recognition Info

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.

Click to collapse Natural enemies Info

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.


One sucking bug, Cardiastethus consors (Hempiptera: Anthocoridae) fed on eggs and larvae in captivity. Otherwise there are no records of predators feeding on Kawakawa looper. The moth may be caught by birds, bats or spiders, and caterpillars may be eaten by birds, spiders or insect predators.

Table: Natural enemies of Kawakawa looper, Cleora scriptaria (Lepidoptera: Geometridae), from Plant-SyNZ database (10 December 2016). The reliability index shows the quality of evidence for the host association (0-10, 10=high quality).
Scientific NameCommon NameClassificationEnemy TypeReliability IndexBiostatus
Mermithidae sp (Eelworm)Mermithida: Mermithidaeparasite5endemic
Cardiastethus consors White, 1879 (Sucking bug)Hemiptera: Anthocoridaepredator4endemic
Cermatulus nasalis (Woodward, 1837)Brown soldier bug (Sucking bug)Hemiptera: Pentatomidaepredator4native
Aleiodes declanae van Achterberg, 2005 (Wasp)Hymenoptera: Braconidaeparasitoid10endemic
Casinaria sp. (Wasp)Hymenoptera: Ichneumonidaeparasitoid7unknown
Diadegma sp. (Wasp)Hymenoptera: Ichneumonidaeparasitoid7unknown
Meteorus pulchricornis (Wesmael, 1835)Basket-cocoon wasp (Wasp)Hymenoptera: Braconidaeparasitoid10adventive
Pales feredayi (Hutton, 1901) (Fly)Diptera: Tachinidaeparasitoid10endemic
Rogas sp. (Wasp)Hymenoptera: Braconidaeparasitoid6endemic
Zealachertus binarius Berry, 1999 (Wasp)Hymenoptera: Eulophidaeparasitoid10endemic

Click to collapse Host plants Info

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.

Table: Host plants of the Kawakawa looper, Cleora scriptaria (Lepidoptera: Geometridae) from Plant-SyNZ database (26 December 2015). The reliability score shows the quality of evidence for the host association (1-10, 10=high).
Common Name(s)Scientific NameFamilyReliability IndexBiostatus
New Zealand ash, Tapitapi, Tītoki, Tītongi, Tokitoki, Tongitongi, TopitopiAlectryon excelsus Gaertn.Sapindaceae10endemic
Wineberry, Mako, MakomakoAristotelia serrata (J.R.Forst. & G.Forst.) W.R.B.OliverElaeocarpaceae10endemic
Marble leaf, Motorbike tree, Kaiwētā, Piripiriwhata, Punawētā, Putaputawētā, PutawētāCarpodetus serratus J.R.Forst. & G.Forst.Rousseaceae10endemic
Tree tutu, Pūhou, Tāweku, Tūpākihi, TutuCoriaria arborea Linds.Coriariaceae10endemic
Sticky hop-bush, ake, Ake rautangi, AkeakeDodonaea viscosa Jacq. subsp. viscosa Jacq.Sapindaceae10non-endemic
Eucalypt, Flowering gum, Gum, StringybarkEucalyptus sp.Myrtaceae7unknown
Akakōpuka, Akapuka, Puka, PukateaGriselinia lucida G.Forst.Griseliniaceae10endemic
Tree lupinLupinus arboreus SimsLeguminosae10naturalised
Poataniwha, TātakaMelicope simplex A.Cunn.Rutaceae10endemic
Puka, Puka, PukanuiMeryta sinclairii Hook. f.) Seem.Araliaceae10endemic
Ahikōmau, Hine-kaikōmako, Kahikōmako, KaikōmakoPennantia corymbosa J.R.Forst. & G.Forst.Pennantiaceae10endemic
Pepper tree, Kawa, KawakawaPiper excelsum G.Forst.Piperaceae10endemic
Five-finger, Houhou, Parapara, Puahou, Tauparapara, Whau, Whaupaku, Whauwhau, WhauwhaupakuPseudopanax arboreus (Murray) PhillipsonAraliaceae10endemic
Coastal five finger, Houmāpara, Houpara, Houparapara, Kokotai, Oho, Parapara, WhauwhauPseudopanax lessonii (DC.) K. KochAraliaceae10endemic
Lowland horopito, Lowland pepper tree, Horopito, PuhikawaPseudowintera axillaris (J.R.Forst. & G.Forst.) DandyWinteraceae10endemic
Alpine pepper tree, Mountain horopito, Pepper tree, Red horopito, Horopito, ōramarama, RamaramaPseudowintera colorata (Raoul) DandyWinteraceae10endemic
Seven-finger, Kohi, Kotētē, Patate, Patatē, Patē, PatētēSchefflera digitata J.R.Forst. & G.Forst.Araliaceae10endemic
Coastal kowhaiSophora chathamica CockayneLeguminosae10endemic
Small leaved kowhai, Weeping kowhai, Kōwhai, Kōwhai maoriSophora microphylla AitonLeguminosae10endemic
Large-leaved kowhai, North Island kowhai, KōwhaiSophora tetraptera J.S. MillerLeguminosae10endemic

Click to collapse Additional information Info


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.

Click to collapse Bug signs Info

Metal outdoor signs are available for placement in reserves, Regional and National parks, urban parks and school grounds. They can be bought from Metal Images Ltd, The Bug Signs are listed near the bottom of the ‘Fauna Species list’. The signs come in two sizes, 100 x 200 mm, 194 x 294 mm. The signs can be bought ready mounted on a stand that needs to be ‘planted’ in the ground, or they can be bought unmounted with holes for fixing into your own mounts.

The signs for the Kawakawa looper are best placed by trees or shrubs of Kawakawa, with holes in their leaves. The amount of leaf damage will vary from year to year, but there is always likely to be some on the chosen plant or on another nearby.

Click to collapse Information sources Info

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.

Click to collapse Other images Info

Click to collapse Update history Info

1 April 2018. NA Martin. Bug signs updated

1 August 2017. NA Martin. Photos of droppings on leaves added

12 December 2016. NA Martin. Natural enemies: corrected biostatus of natural enemies.

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