Giant Leopard Moth

I am inexcusably behind on introducing y’all to one of my new babies. Please meet:

This fuzzy bab. It’s good advice to never touch fuzzy or furry caterpillars, because sometimes they sting. But, if you know, for sure, what a caterpillar is, and you know it doesn’t sting, then it’s fine. The older caterpillars of these moths are very easy to identify, and they are safe. The above photos are NOT of an older caterpillar, though! I wasn’t sure yet, so I let him hang out on my front porch.

Above photos from October 14, 2018

A few days later (October 17), I found the bab, but bigger, fuzzier, and orangier! Those thin orange rings between body segments will identify this black fuzzy caterpillar as a Leopard Moth! In my area, Giant Leopard Moths are the most common, so that’s what I have him identified as. At that point, I brought him inside. I mean, look at this face:

It had been a little while, so I went looking for him today, and I found him hibernating (?) in this dried up leaf!

You may be wondering what happens to all these caterpillars over the winter. How do they stay safe when it gets so cold? They will enter a state similar to hibernation called “diapause.” Essentially, they stop eating, they may change color or shape, and they find a safe place to be while they wait out the winter. Many moths and butterflies “overwinter” as a pupa. Moths have the added protection of their cocoons to stay safe. But some butterflies overwinter as a chrysalis, too! One of my favorite childhood memories was finding a Swallowtail butterfly chrysalis in the pile of branches my dad had pruned off our bushes, putting it into a container, and checking it one day in early spring to find the butterfly had emerged!

But! Many caterpillars stay in caterpillar form over the winter. They can stay camouflaged, but they can also respond to threats by periodically moving around. My Tawny Emperor babies will overwinter as younger caterpillars. And Leopard Moths also overwinter in caterpillar form! I’m not sure if my fuzzy baby is overwintering or getting ready to molt (I had caterpillars into November/December last year!). My guess is he’s about to molt, but it seemed like a good opportunity to talk about diapause!

I didn’t mention: some species will overwinter as adults! Question Mark and Comma butterflies are some examples. Their wings resemble dead fall leaves for a reason!

October 24, 2018