September 21, 2011

My goodness. It seems that every morning when I go out to pick raspberries for our breakfast cereal, I find another exciting-looking caterpillar! Of course, they are eating nearly around the clock these days, getting ready to spin their cocoons, where they will spend the winter before emerging as butterflies or moths in the spring.

As I wrote the other day, it’s best not to handle hairy caterpillars because some of them are poisonous or otherwise dangerous. Some of them have specialized hollow hairs, and when they are touched by humans, the hairs can create a tiny scratch on our hands and release a strong toxin (poison) into the almost invisible cut. This process is called "urtication," and caterpillar urtications can cause severe allergic responses in some people. So keep your hands off hairy caterpillars!


I picked this one up on a piece of cardboard and moved it out of the grass to a rock in order to get a better look at it. It was still sparkling with morning dew, and curled up into a ball as soon as I got near it. That is a defensive mechanism, to protect itself from predators (though I really wasn’t going to hurt it!). I could see immediately that this kind of caterpillar is a typical "woolly bear" variety, with a thick coat of black bristles called setae. The red bands around its body are so distinctive that I was able to easily identify it simply by typing "caterpillar black hairs red bands" into a web browser.

Well….I can say is…..WOW! This is the caterpillar of the Giant Leopard Moth (Hypercompe scribonia). 

It is one of the most beautiful of all moths - white with iridescent blue spots. And it truly is "giant," with wingspan of about 3-inches (8 cm). That is biger than your middle finger - a good-sized moth, for sure.

We do not clean up our garden very much in the fall, leaving the dry stems and leaves to create winter shelters for helpful and beautiful insects like these. I hope that lots of them find a safe haven up under the raspberry bushes, because I would love to see a giant leopard moth in person come the spring.

Keep your eyes open when you are walking in the outdoors, and then write and tell me what interesting wild creatures you see.

Moth Photo: Wikimedian Kevincollins123





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Posted by: Seymour Simon

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