Poinciana Looper Caterpillar

The poinciana looper moth, is a pest of trees including the iconic shade and ornamental tree poinciana, that is often grown as a street tree across Brisbane. The looper caterpillars feed on the foliage of poinciana and, in certain localities causes defoliation of the trees.

The looper can grow and reproduce on poinciana trees year-round in the Brisbane region and are usually not noticed. Occasionally they have an exceptional season and the population on a tree increases significantly.

Impacts on the environment

Over recent years, infestations of these moths, have caused extensive defoliation, reduced flowering, and become a nuisance to residents as mature caterpillars drop from trees.

Infestations are thought to be associated with wetter than average seasons.

While the looper caterpillars are capable of partial or total defoliation of poinciana trees in the Brisbane area, the trees regrow their foliage and recover with no evidence of trees suffering long-term damage or dying.

What do they look like

The poinciana looper caterpillar is characterised by its long, thin body up to 7cm long with a distinctive large green head, wavy white lines along the sides and top of the body and the way the body creates a distinctive “loop” when it crawls.

The looper completes its life cycle in about 40 days.

What do they eat

The looper also feeds on other tree species, such as:

  • Yellow poinciana
  • Acacia
  • Leopard trees.

What can I do about the caterpillars

Brisbane City Council advises residents to avoid parking underneath a tree that has an infestation due to amounts of excretion and caterpillars dropping from the tree.

Where there are high populations of loopers in poincianas, Council is looking for possible management strategies to manage the infestations, but typically will not treat looper infestations on Council trees. This is an ecological process that does not cause long-term damage to the trees.

If the infestation is creating concern for trees on private property, you can seek advice from the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries (DAF) 13 25 23 or your local hardware store or nursery for management options.

Last updated: 20 October 2020