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!
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?