Friday, September 19, 2014

Saddleback - Additional Views

An early morning encounter with a Saddleback Caterpillar made me believe that it may be helpful to some if I were to provide a few more images of this remarkable creature.  I’ve been seeing large numbers of this species on a variety of different trees and shrubs.  Those stinging spines suggest how this caterpillar can make a lasting impression on an unsuspecting person.

Each of those spines contains a chemical irritant that makes initial contact with the power of a wasp sting, progresses into a chemical burn and finally settles into an intense itch that lingers for several minutes before dropping to a mild irritation causing brief periods of itching for an additional hour.

The brown and green pattern on this caterpillar makes it difficult to see as it sits feeding on a leaf.  However, once you have a search image in mind, they are pretty easy to locate and avoid.  Unfortunately, it’s usually not the ones you see that give you a sting; it’s the ones hidden from view beneath the leaf that catch you by surprise.  You can easily see the caterpillar to the left, but it’s the one farther down the stem to the right that’s liable to get you.

This is the one that got me yesterday morning.  I was leaning backwards, trying to get a look at a bird in a tree, when my shoulder pressed against the caterpillar.  I think he got me with spines from all four corners.

After rubbing my shoulder and voicing my dissatisfaction with the encounter, I decided to take a few shots of my assailant.  It seemed totally undisturbed by my inadvertent blunder.

The actual head of the caterpillar is located beneath the first body segments and is generally hidden from view.  A ring of spined protrusions protects the head from undesired attention.

This is what you would see if trying to sneak up on the caterpillar from the rear.  Two white spots give the appearance of a menacing creature facing down a potential attacker.  Next year will be a lot of fun if all of these caterpillars live to produce adults in the spring.  


  1. Wonderful pictures, but I most appreciated learning which end was the front! I found one this summer and couldn't figure it out.

  2. What a fascinating critter! Wonderful images.

  3. Hi, Sara. I can understand your confusion. It is sometimes hard to tell one end from the other when dealing with caterpillars.

    Thanks, Lois. This is something you might just find in your yard.

  4. I have never seen one of these. What kind of plant leaves is he eating? That is a fantastic set of photographs you have taken!

  5. Thanks, Becky. That's Smooth Sumac in the first three photos and a small Hickory in the last four. I've also found the caterpillars this year on Sycamore, Redbud, Red Maple and Corn.