Watching you raise bugs takes me back to elementary school when I caught a bunch of little green caterpillars and stuck them in a bowl with leaves, twigs, etc in my room. They ended up forming cocoons on the walls, and I had to shoo them out through the window when the hatched. Probably not best practice for etymology, but I was 7, and it worked out in the end. The point is you do work and it brings a smile to my face! Thanks!
Awww thanks. I did the same thing with the furry caterpillars in Washington (Isabella tiger moths and Virginian tiger moths), except I used a shoe box. Initially, I’d keep the lid on it, but over time, we would “develop trust” and the caterpillar would “stay in the box” until one day, he would disappear and I would be sad… until I’d find a cocoon on a random object in my room (like, a book). I loved their furry little cocoons. Right now, the outside of my house is covered in them, I had an outbreak of Virginian tiger moth caterpillars last fall. I think most of the moths have emerged and flown off, but I’ll probably leave the cocoons up forever.
Thanks for writing in and sharing about your moths!
Black Swallowtail Butterfly caterpillar, obsessed with hygiene
FYI, in case y’all don’t know about the caterpillar gif blog, I have a caterpillar gif blog. Where I post… caterpillar gifs. Here is one of the black swallowtail babies who is… taking a bath instead of stuffing his face and growing asap so I can take pictures without using the microscope???
I am too distracted to figure out how I want to handle x-posting so if you want to for sure see all the caterpillar content, keep an eye over there!
Buckle in kids, this one should be exciting andfull of drama.
It all started with a text message. A friend out in Smithville (i.e. further out in the country than me) found some giant caterpillars:
I dropped everything to go see them. I lovingly adopted one caterpillar (who would turn out to be the female), and was also gifted with a cocoon (which held the male), one of many my friend found in her elderberry bush.
Winter came and went, the moths emerged, and got to business right away. They didn’t seem to mind that they were probably siblings.
The female laid eggs.
After about 20 days, they started to hatch:
They hatched three days ago.
Which brings us up to today. Most of them are out of their eggs by now. And they have started eating. I offered them a choice. Elm (good for me, I have lots of elm), or elderberry (please no it’s a baby I don’t have enough elderberry for 50 cecropias please no).
Here’s their little mini-home:
Elm (light green) vs elderberry (dark green)
Guess what the turds picked?
My current plan is to grow the elderberry as much as I can (does the elderberry have favorite foods? Can I give it a ritual sacrifice? ???) and then return some of the caterpillars to the motherland when things get too ridiculous. I’m sure my friend will be super excited about that. And I can play with her bees when I visit, too!
Stay tuned (*sigh*)
March 19, 2019
Are they bigger?? They haven’t started Munchathon 2019 yet, but they are warming up, for sure.
March 21, 2019
They are bigger (and turning yellow)!
They finally turned their hungry on!
Not all my eggs hatched, so my “50” is greatly exaggerated. Looks like I have 13 if no more eggs hatch. A little more manageable. I can sneak them treats from my plum tree if I need to stretch the elderberry.
March 22/23, 2019
Baby’s First Molt
I just came home to find my first 2nd instar baby Cecropia! This was them this morning:
I had a feeling they were about to pop.
When they’re getting ready to molt, they will put down a silk mat to hold onto with their old skin (think velcro), while they crawl out of it. Then they hold real still for a few hours while their new head squeezes out of the old one so they have a hole to climb out of.
Here is the mat of one getting ready to molt:
In some species (and for older caterpillars), it can be more obvious, but you can usually see the silk when light shines on it. Here is the same caterpillar (side-view):
The silk mat is a little more obvious here. See how he looks like a fat sausage ready to pop?! (*whispers* it’s cuz he is).
March 26, 2019
OMG THAT’s IT!
So when I was about 7-9 ish I found this HUGE bright green caterpillar, Like, I’m not sure the photos do it justice. I was Smol sure, but it was like… clearly the size of a pickle. and it had bright red, yellow and blue bumps on it with little black spikes sticking out of each [as you see pictured.] but when I tried to show it to my grandmother, in a big safe bucket. She freaked out and screamed about it and flung the whole thing outside and I never saw it again.
My mom came home from work, and I tried to describe this thing to her and how it wasn’t -normal- for our area… I had been playing with bugs in the yard for YEARS, like it’s all I had to do… Like we moved so much I barely knew another kid that wasn’t my sister… but I don’t even think she believed me.
Like a child says “It was huge and super bright green and it had all this coloured bumps in primary colours with black spikes!!!” and adults just -assume- they’re describing some fantasy, or a cartoon, or exaggerating and can’t understand why a child should care so much about trying to identify the species of a caterpillar…
And even years later when something would trigger the memory, I’d try to look it up… but “giant green caterpillar with coloured bumps” hadn’t googled up anything useful to me any time I tried, and I eventually stopped asking people about it and it faded from memory…
All of ONE person ever acknowledged that what I saw was probably even real and said they had heard of them and thought it might be some kind of moth.
… But like… I live in Northern Canada… and larvae are the kinds of things that are very sensitive to temperature and food sources no? and moths and butterflies often have set migratory patterns, if they migrate at all, no? So would it not have been super strange to see one of these in northern Canada in the 90s? Where are these from? I’ve never -ever- seen another, not with all my investigating bugs and looking through woods and being the person people call when they can’t identify a bug…
And listen, that’s SUPER it, like how the yellow spots slowly turn into red just at the very end, and how there’s one yellow one in the middle like an antenna, and the big blue suction feet like a cartoon, and the little black spikes in the nubs… Every little detail I tried to burn into my mind to identify it later. We had plum and apple trees in that yard too????
That is the quintessential caterpillar. Some awesomely caterpillar that people assume it’s description must be a caricature of what people think a cool caterpillar would be.
Hello, Canadian Friend!
These moths DO INDEED OCCUR IN CANADA. I don’t know how far north you are, or which part of Canada (it’s big!) but BugGuide has records of this genus in the Northwest Territories. They are not migratory, and yes they are sensitive to temperature. What this means: in places farther north, the eggs hatch later in the year, and caterpillars eat FAST, grow FAST, and go into cocoons FAST, just in time for fall. This may be why nobody you know has seen them! They are also fairly uncommon!
They are very well camouflaged! My friend had an elderberry bush FULL OF THEM by her mailbox and had NO IDEA until they were already making cocoons. If you were a huge (delicious) juicy caterpillar, you would want to be invisible, too!
I had heard about these moths/caterpillars, but hadn’t seen them myself back in 2017. When I first heard about a state park that had them in the trees outside their visitor’s center, I dropped everything and drove there to see them. Even though it was a four hour drive. Even though it took me until midnight to get there. I only found one (the rest had started making cocoons), but oh boy I took PHOTOS of him. The fun part: the texture of the caterpillar’s skin was identical to the unripe plum fruits on the tree. Even though I was taking pictures of him and STARING at him, he kept disappearing!
Check out my post from that trip! [link] I got him onto a branch and he was the size of a corndog, I’m not joking. In that caterpillar, his front “knobs” are orange, though in some individuals they can be red. It varies!
There is more than one species, and they all look fairly similar. Which species you saw depends on where you are (also they haven’t really figured out how many species there are yet—it’s complicated!). Here is one with redder knobs, from Quebec (the knobs are also more elongated):
Heyo! I know you’re not in Australia, but there was a whole group of caterpillars (I guess?) by the edge of a path on a nature walk today. They moved as a group, and had little pointed butts that they tapped on the ground when my partner and I got close to them. I tried identifying them, but with no luck, so I wanted to see if you knew them? Thanks in advance, regardless!
LOOK AT THESE CUTE LITTLE BABIES!!! You are right to be a little suspicious of these guys. There aren’t any clear shots of their little suction cup prolegs because they are all in a huge pile together (when they’re in groups like this, they’re called “gregarious”). If you did pick one out and take a good look at it, you would likely be a little more suspicious.
Here is what you would see for a typical caterpillar:
This is a Gulf Fritillary caterpillar, just after molting. I numbered the prolegs. There is a little variation, like with inchworms (who only have two!), but for the mostpart, the most you will see is 5 (the exceptions are the slugmoth caterpillars, but you will never confuse them with these next guys).
Here’s what you would see if you pulled out one of your little friends there:
Here’s a freshly molted baby! Hmmmmmm.
Here’s another baby! Wait a minute…
Your friends are not baby moths or butterflies, they are the babies of:
A sawfly! Related to Bees, Wasps, and Ants!
Of course, I only have photos of the Texan ones, and I honestly haven’t seen too many species (these are not easy to find here!). But oh boy, the Australian sawflies are beautiful!
Your sawfly larvae are in the genus Perga. Here is what the adults look like (2 cm long and beautiful):
How did I figure this out? I googled “Australian caterpillars,” and landed on this page: The Identification of Caterpillars of Australia [link]. Large caterpillars are noteworthy, especially gregarious ones. But they’re not on the main page. The long legs (actually legs, up front) made me suspicious as well, so I clicked over to their sawfly page [link], and there they were! I looked them up on iNaturalist, and we were in business.
Thanks for asking, that was fun! I didn’t realize sawflies got so big (but of course they do!)
My yard is infested with these adorable animate hairpieces. They look soft and cuddly, but if you ever see one of these (common in the US south), DO NOT TOUCH! Those hairs conceal heavy duty spines capable of injecting a highly potent venom. Even a light brush is enough to send some people to the ER.
I had heard about flannel moth caterpillars soon after I moved to Texas, and I made a mental note to not touch anything unless I knew for sure that it couldn’t hurt me (hasn’t kept me from getting bitten but I have never been stung because I was an idiot!). I was *hoping* that Texas was overrun by these guys, but after four years of not seeing one, I gave up.
… then I moved out to the country. And these babies are EATING MY PLUM SAPLING. I suspected these were the flannel moth caterpillars because of the joke about them looking like they escaped from the head of a particular unpopular individual, but they are TINY! and all of the photos online show mature caterpillars, not young ones. However, the family is distinct in that they have 7 pairs of prolegs (their little suction cup “feet”–more than usual for caterpillars!), and guess who was showing off 14 little prolegs today?
I was a little unnerved at first. I go out into the yard every day to manhandle plants to feed to the other caterpillars, and last night I found this beautiful fluffy baby eating a leaf in the stick insect tank. Did I mention these are highly venomous? That a sting on your finger can cause shooting pain and swelling up to your shoulder? Not exactly something I want to accidentally grab. So now I go out in the sweaty 90+ degree weather wearing vinyl gloves in the hope that they will save me.
So add flannel moths to the list of caterpillars invading my kitchen. The adults are totally harmless and look like fluffy teddy bears with wings. I’m trying to exercise moderation and NOT end up with hundreds of caterpillars again, so I only have four fluffy hairpieces.
PS: HAPPY MOTH WEEK EVERYONE!!!
June 12, 2017
Hey guys, remember when I was drowning in flannel moths? This was the beginning.
The babes are still pretty small, but oh boy they are HUNGRY. Their poops changed color from yellow to the standard green color. They are escape artists and I have to continually put them back into their habitat when I’m feeding them (I use a paintbrush to move them, very convenient!), and there are SO MANY of them.
September 8, 2018
They are still so tiny but SO FURRY!! Look at all that FLUFF!! These babes are a pain in the butt and are constantly trying to escape. I can’t wait for them to get bigger and fluffier.
September 9, 2018
First Molt Underway
Their head capsule includes the earmuff dongles I’m d y i n g
September 10, 2018
First Molt Complete
Still no idea who they are!
I did an enclosure change today. How do you move hoardes of tiny caterpillars, you ask?
Starting to look a little more tussocky! Still very small.
September 12, 2018
I have been a bad caterpillar liveposter, BUT these things have molted a second time and they are still almost impossible to see without a microscope.
If anything, the fluffier they get, the harder they are to see!
These are from last night :X
September 15, 2018
They are taking forever and I’m impatient.
This one hadn’t moved in three days or so. Turns out he was just molting??? (That’s his old skin next to him)
September 25, 2018
I guess they’re a little bigger?
Also, those hairs?
Don’t touch! The fluffy looking hairs have a strange texture, and they may be the irritating hairs that can cause allergic reactions. I really need to read up on stinging caterpillar anatomy!
October 2, 2018
Are you ready?
I love them 😭
October 11, 2018
I think we have an ID!
Looks like a Yellow-banded Tussock Moth! Still need to see the adults to know for sure, but these babs match the photo in the caterpillar guide perfectly!
October 15, 2018
Large and terrifying
Very cute, but wow those hairs all look like trouble!
October 20, 2018
Punk Hairstyles for the Distinguished Caterpillar
Arching his back… almost like he’s trying to maximize his chances of stinging somebody.
I can’t believe how OLD they are! They just keep growing and molting. I don’t know how big they get, but I believe they still have aways to go.
October 24, 2018
THIS FACE. THIS TUM.
Oh! Who is this?!?
Mystery solved! This is a Southern Tussock Moth!! Others in my butterfly/moth group thought it was a different species based on the caterpillar (as did I!), which is exactly why I raise caterpillars! When I found the eggs, I could not find any documentation relating moth species to egg or caterpillar. And now I have the egg, the caterpillars at every size, the host plant, the cocoon/pupa, and the adult moth!
Science is awesome, and citizen science is even awesomer. I’m not a “real” entomologist. Anybody with the time and energy can do this (and when I have the time and energy, I write up a how to guide, I promise!)
Anyway, let’s love on this bab a bit since he can’t sting me now!
Adult emerged December 9, 2018, other photos from earlier (oops).
He just wandered into where I work, I was wearing gloves when I handled him since I wasn’t sure whether or not he was venomous but I wanted to move him somewhere out of foot traffic.
I would love to help him stay safe but I don’t know what to feed him or what he needs.
This babe is a prepupal Imperial Moth caterpillar and needs a dark place to cuddle up in and pupate. He’s not going to eat anything at this point. They are typically a darker/brighter color, but when they are getting ready to pupate, they lose much of their fantastic color and texture. At this stage of their lives, the structures of the pupa are starting to develop inside of them, so they get kinda weird and sausage-y.
Imperial Moths are Saturniids like Io Moths and Polyphemus Moths, but unlike those species, they will burrow underground and pupate in the soil like Sphinx moths do. If you give this baby a nice cozy place to pupate, you can see him when he comes out as an adult:
I have been STRESSED OUT and BUSY and also I got bronchitis (but I didn’t lose my voice until AFTER I finished teaching a four hour workshop on iNaturalist Saturday morning, thankfully). The Master Naturalist Annual Meeting (and that four hour workshop…) was the major time sink the past few weeks so now I have no excuse for slacking in the blog department (besides the whole desperate employment search thing).
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
@cyberpunk-assassin That’s a good idea! Make sure the enclosure is in a safe secure spot away from rain and wind that could knock it over. You may also want to protect the caterpillar from parasites by putting a piece of fabric or paper towel over the top (the critter keeper lid will keep it in place). Do remember to check on him regularly! Some bugs will stay active way later than you expect, so he may need fresh food before he enters diapause.