Wednesday, September 29, 2010


This has been a year of abundant butterflies and moths at Blue Jay Barrens and now, as you might expect, I am seeing an abundance of caterpillars. Every tree and shrub is showing signs of feeding damage to the leaves and it doesn’t take long to discover the feeders. The last time I was out, I ran into a couple of my favorites. This little beauty is the Spiny Oak-slug, Euclea delphinii.

This is one of those look-but-don’t-touch species. Those spines are venom filled and can deliver an irritating sting. I’m always glad when I see the caterpillar before accidentally brushing against it. The spines are arranged to give defense from above or from the sides.

The bright coloration of this caterpillar is a warning to stay away. From a distance, the bright yellow is muted and begins to look like just another leaf adopting its fall colors.

When I see long tufts of hair adorning the head and tail of a caterpillar, I automatically think tussock moth. Most caterpillars with this feature represent a species with tussock in its common name, even though they represent many genera scattered through several families of moths. Here is the Banded Tussock Moth, Halysidota tessellaris.

This is a very common species that often sits out in the open on top of leaves. The head is partially hidden by several tufts of long, feathery hairs. I suppose the tufts have something to do with camouflage or defense. What I really like about these caterpillars is the magic act they perform when disturbed.

Suddenly, the head becomes the butt. Like a turtle withdrawing into its shell, the caterpillar pulls in its head and first segments so that the arrangement of tufts mimics the rear end. Many predators attack the head of the prey and having the head suddenly disappear could confuse a predator enough to make it move away. Whatever the reason, it’s a neat little trick to watch.


  1. Such pretty little critters. :) Great images.

  2. Wow, great pictures. I was thinking the other day how I rarely see caterpillars, even though I'm covered up with butterflies and moths. Then again, caterpillars don't draw the same kind of attention to themselves. You've inspired me to get out and look more closely.

  3. Hi Steve..we have a caterpillar here that has same affect as the first photo shows, but he doesn't look like that one.
    Do you know of any others??
    I have seen the second one here but didnt know the rest of the story!! lol interesting!!

  4. Steve, that is one beautiful caterpillar! I really need to get outside. Between the weather and my sewing obligations, I've stayed tucked inside, warm and cozy! ~karen

  5. Thanks, Lois. The first one’s pretty to look at, but nasty to touch.

    Thanks for the comments, Clark. One of my goals with this blog is to motivate people to go out and look at things. I also wanted to thank you for the nice comments you made about Blue Jay Barrens on your blog. I hope you are successful in your efforts to get your students out to learn about what’s living right outside their school building.

    Hi, grammie g. There are several species of moths that have caterpillars similar to that first one. They come in many different colors and slightly different styles, but they all have the same bothersome sting.

    Hi, Karen. I understand how things can keep you trapped indoors. There are times when I must stay inside to take care of things, but as I look around the room, that doesn’t appear to happen very often.