Distribution Present on all continents (except Antarctica) and all major temperatre or tropical areas with the noteable exception of the Greater Antilles, Madagascar, and West Africa (including much of the Congo basin). Also absent from small volcanic islands and archipelagos with the exception of one species in Fiji and possibly Samoa. Absence on volcanic islands may reflect relavtive inability for Hepialidae to survive on small, geologically unstable and ephemeral environments. Absence in the Caribbean and Madagascar may also reflect abence of ancestral Hepialidae from these regions.
Life cycle Eggs are dropped by the female either during flight or at rest. Eggs develop within the shelter of ground plant litter and require near 100% humidity to successfully develop where they come to rest within litter or other ground debris. Eclosion of the first instar generally occurs between one and three weeks. Larvae develop within substrates such as soil or host plants for one to as many as five years or more.
Larval feeding Larval biology is pooly known, if at all, for many species, especially the early stages. First and early instars in a wide range of genera are known to feed on detritus or fungi before specializing on vascular plants for the major part of larval development.
All larvae are concealed feeders, either occupying a tunnel in soil or plant host, or a tube of silk and debris on or within ground vegetation and litter, or sometimes above ground on the ventral surface of bracket fungi.
Vascular host plants Most species feed on angiosperms for all or the bulk of larval development. Many species appear to either have many host species, or a variety of hosts from different plant families or orders. Others appear to be limited to a few species and some may be limited to a single host.
Hepialidae as a human resource (a) Medicinal. The most extensive use of ghost moth caterpillars for medicinal purposes occurs principally in China where the caterpillar has been parasitized by a pathogentic fungus. The fungus infested caterpillar is dried and ground up to cure a range of ailments.
(b) Food. Two principal groups of people have utilized ghost moth caterpillars. The Maori of New Zealand would extract caterpillars of Aenetus virescens from hosts by squirting water into the tunnel so the caterpillar would emerge. I have used this method successfully to obtain caterpillars, with the slight modification of adding a drop of detergent. Rural people in Mexico extracted caterpillars of Phassus species: visit Larvae as food in Mexico
(c) Tattoo pigment. The Maori used fungal infested caterpillars as a source of pigment for body tattoos. Cunningham (1921) noted that the sclerotium of Cordyceps robertsii was made use of in tattooing by burning and pulverizing the vegetative portion of the fungus, or awheto—the living grub being known as ngutara. The resulting powder was mixed with water to form a black paste.