Thursday, August 4, 2011

Stinging Rose Caterpillars

I don’t know what kind of committee designed this caterpillar, but I think the only thing they could agree on was bright colors. This is the Stinging Rose Caterpillar from the family of Slug Caterpillars. You’ll be hard pressed to find another caterpillar as colorful as this little creature.

The Redbuds are full of these caterpillars, but their small size makes them hard to spot among the leaves. They’re all about a half inch long now and may grow to be three quarters of an inch before beginning the transformation into an adult moth.

The dorsal pattern looks to me like a diagram of the caterpillar’s digestive system with an arrow pointing the way out. The head is to the left in the picture. That brown object at the other end used to be leaf not too long ago.

Bright coloration is usually a warning for predators to keep their distance. In this case the warning pertains to needle-like spines that are capable of dispensing an irritant that causes itching and burning. You would have to have some very dull nerve endings to not feel the touch of this stinging caterpillar. I suppose it would be even worse for any small animal that messed around with this guy.

This individual was looking particularly brilliant, but on closer examination it appeared to be injured. Getting closer still, the cause of the deformity became clear.

The caterpillar had just shed and I was looking at the cast off skin. I wonder if those spines are still potent after they leave the caterpillar’s body.

The term slug caterpillar makes even more sense when you look at its under side. Waves traveling the length of that gelatinous belly provide locomotion very much like a slug or snail. The head is to the right, but is hidden within a fleshy hood. The hood provides protection to the head even while the caterpillar is feeding. If you decide to view a live slug caterpillar’s belly, I suggest you turn the creature over with a stick instead of your fingers. Feel free to ignore this advice if you like. It probably wouldn’t kill you.

A Camera Critters submission.

Camera Critters


  1. Wow! I've never seen such a caterpillar like this. Quite stunning, actually.

  2. Fascinating! It looks like a caterpillar version of a clown fish with a few spikes in it. :\ He is quite pretty, isn't he.

  3. beautiful creature. I'll be on the lookout for them. What does the moth look like?

  4. Hi, Karen. Wouldn't it be something if it grew to be 2 or 3 inches long?

    Hi, Lois. With its sting, it's like the clown fish and its anemone got rolled into one.

  5. Hi, Wilma. The moth is shaped like a pup tent when at rest and is light green with some brown splotches and edging. The legs are very hairy.

  6. Looks more like something you might expect to see under the sea on a coral reef.

  7. Eeuw, I was quite enjoying this critter until you turned it over. Amazing colors, aren't they?
    — K

    Kay, Alberta, Canada
    An Unfittie's Guide to Adventurous Travel

  8. For sure I have never seen such a colourful one!

  9. I would not ignore your advice. I usually think caterpillars are cute, but not all (no matter how colouful this guy is!)

  10. Wow, what a neat looking caterpillar. Very colorful, great sighting. Thanks for sharing this different looking critter.

  11. Very interesting and terrific shots!

  12. Hi, Frank. That’s just what I thought. It’s like one of those colorful sea slugs.

    Hi, Kay. I’ve been told that we should all be prepared to face the belly of the beast.

    Hi, EG. It does provide a rainbow of color.

    Hi, VioletSky. I find more stinging caterpillars by touch than I do by sight.

    You’re welcome, Eileen. I really enjoy finding spectacular little animals like this one.

    Thanks, Karen.

  13. ::snort::

    Wouldn't get closer to this thing than my telephoto lens! No way I'd touch it, especially its sluggy belly.

    I'll bet it becomes a beautiful butterfly.

    Awesome shots. Thanks.

  14. Thanks, Cheryl. A telephoto lens wouldn't hurt. I can tell you that it's mighty easy to accidently brush this fellow when you've got your lens right up against his body.

    Hi, Woman. It reminds me of a hippie mini-bus.

  15. Very nice shots of this colorful caterpillar.