Polka dot wasp moth


Polka Dot Wasp Moth (Syntomeida epilais)

The colorful, clownish Polka Dot Wasp Moth is a clever mimic that only hurts the oleander bush.

Polka Dot Wasp Moths are common to tropical climates and have a North American home in the humid southeastern United States, appearing year-round in the warmest areas like Florida. Though they have the appearance – and in some ways, the behavior – of a wasp, the Polka Dot Wasp Moth is just a moth. It does not sting, nor bite. It utilizes mimicry to dissuade potential predators that are familiar with a real wasp’s sting. The Polka Dot Wasp Moth is a day-flier. Its black wings and body have a blue translucence. The tip of the abdomen looks like it was dipped in red. Bright, white dots mark the wings. Two large white dots sit at the moth’s ‘waist’ and a line of them run along both sides of the abdomen. Tips of the antennae and back legs are white.
The Oleander Caterpillar is the common name for the Polka Dot Wasp Moth when it is in its larval stage. These larvae are disliked for their extensive defoliation of the poisonous oleander plant, which is common in Florida. Oleander Caterpillars are a bright orange with black hairs, and they congregate in large numbers on oleander leaves. Removing them from the garden is can be conflicting. Doing so spares the aesthetics of the oleander, but then erases an opportunity to see its charismatic adult form later in the season.

Oleander Wasp Moth – Tips On Wasp Moth Identification And Control

Of all the things that can bother your plants, insect pests have to be one of the most insidious. Not only are they small and hard to spot but their activities are often conducted under leaves, in soil or at night where they can’t be detected. The oleander wasp moth larvae is one of these little devils. Learning the oleander caterpillar lifecycle and preferred feeding areas can help you identify the insect and squash it like a bug.

Wasp Moth Identification

Oleander wasp moths are quite striking insects and wasp moth identification is easy. They are deep blue with white polka dots and a fiery red abdomens, lending them the name Uncle Sam’s moth. These patriotic insects fly about during the day, making them easier to define than many other moths. The adults aren’t the source of drama, however. It is their larvae whose preferred feeding ground is oleander.

The moths are easy to see with their daytime flight pattern and bright neon blue bodies and flirtatious orangey red rear ends. If you see them flitting about your oleander, you might want to get some sticky traps, as they are likely getting ready to lay eggs on the underside of your bush.

Wasp moths are found in Florida and coastal southeastern states. The fine, tiny eggs are creamy yellow but, eventually, the larvae hatch and begin defoliating your plant. Larvae are caterpillars with orange day-glow skin and thick tufts of black spines. The larvae tend to hang out in groups, blissfully munching on oleander leaves.

Adults prefer to find their nectar in lantana, beggarticks and several other flowering perennials.

Recognizing Oleander Moth Damage

While oleander caterpillars prefer the bush of their name, they will also attack desert rose plants. The devastation is easy to see. The larvae start on younger, new foliage and skeletonize it, leaving webs of veins hanging forlornly from the stems. If you don’t act quickly, the pests can remove all the foliage from your oleander.

Feeding on the poisonous plant gives the larvae a level of toxicity that many predators seem to avoid. In the later instars of the oleander caterpillar lifecycle, the larvae become solitary diners and have huge appetites in preparation for pupation.

Oleander moth damage will likely not kill your plant the first year, but repeated mistreatment will weaken the oleander and open it to other stresses, disease and pests.

Treating for Spotted Oleander Wasp Moths

Quick and decisive control is necessary to prevent further oleander moth damage. In most cases, cutting off the damaged foliage and along with it, the caterpillars, and disposing of it can minimize much of the pest population.

Bacillus thuringiensis is a natural microbe which has been shown to be effective against wasp moth larvae as well as many other pests. Watch for natural enemies and place them on the bush. These include:

  • tachinid flies
  • wasps
  • stink bugs
  • fire ants

In all cases, wear gloves when handling the oleander, as the sap is very poisonous. There are several insecticides listed for use but caution should be exercised when using pesticides in the garden, as they can also kill beneficial insects.



  • Cloudless Sulphur
  • Swallowtail
  • Gulf Fritillary
  • Longtailed Skipper
  • Zebra Longwing


  • Forest Tent Caterpillar
  • Azalea Caterpillar
  • Yellowstriped Oakworm
  • Tomato Hornworm
  • Hickory Horned Devil
  • Luna Moth Caterpillar

Cloudless Sulphur Caterpillar

This caterpillar is 1-1/2″ to 2″ long when fully developed. It has a pebbly surface and bears a distinct lateral yellow stripe running the length of the body. Larvae feed on Cassia spp., favoring sicklepod and partridge pea.’

Giant Swallowtail Caterpillar

This caterpillar is 1-1/2″ to 2″ long when mature and has a blotchy brown-and-white pattern. It looks remarkably like a bird dropping throughout its larval stages. These caterpillars feed primarily on citrus and are called “orange dogs” because they are commonly found in orange groves.

Gulf Fritillary Caterpillar

This caterpillar is 1-1/4″ to 1-3/4″ at maturity and has an orange body with several rows of black spines along the entire length. The food plant is passion vine, and it lays its eggs on or near any part of the plant.

Longtailed Skipper Caterpillar

This caterpillar, known as the bean leafroller, is commonly found on different varieties of beans. Other legumes also serve as food plants, including wisteria and hairy indigo. The distinctive caterpillar is 1″ to 1-1/2″ long and has a large brown, rounded head. The body is light-green with parallel yellow lines down the back.

Zebra Longwing Caterpillar

This caterpillar reaches a length of 1-1/2″ to 1-3/4″. It has white above and brown below, with several rows of black spines that run the entire length of the body, interspersed with black spots. The eggs are laid on the new growth of passion vines, which serve as the larval food plant.

Forest Tent Caterpillar

Larvae have a dark-gray to brownish-black background body color, highlighted by broad, pale- blue lines and thin, broken yellow lines extending along each side. On the dorsum of each abdominal segment is a distinct, whitish keyhole or shoeprint-shaped marking. Larvae are also somewhat hairy, the setae being fine, whitish in color, and sparsely distributed. Mature larvae are 2 to 2.5 in. (50 to 64 mm) in length. Pupation occurs in a pale- yellow, loosely spun silken cocoon. The stout-bodied adult moths are tan to buff-brown in color, with two darker, thin parallel lines extending across the mid-portion of each forewing, the area between often being dark and appearing as a single, broad, dark band. The wingspread ranges from 1 to 1 3/4 in. (25-45 mm). Eggs occur in masses of 100 to 350, forming bands up to 1 in. (25 mm) in length that encircle small diameter twigs. Egg masses are coated with a dark-brown, frothy, cement-like substance called spumaline.

Azalea Caterpillar

Young caterpillars feed in a cluster side by side unless disturbed. These first instar caterpillars are approximately 3/8 inch long after feeding for eight to ten hours. They remain gregarious and soon devour the entire leaf.

As the larva matures, it becomes highly colored. The mature caterpillar is yellow with seven red longitudinal stripes and a black head. Now the caterpillar is about two inches long, and predominately black, with a red last segment and eight broken yellow (occasionally white) lengthwise stripes. The head and legs are mahogany-red.

Yellowstriped Oakworm

The first stage caterpillars are yellow with a black head and two prominent horns rising from the second thoracic segment. The second stage caterpillars retain the yellow to yellow-green color and are slightly larger. During the third and fourth stages, the caterpillars change from yellow, to yellow-green, to a black. Eventually, larvae become black-bodied with yellow stripes running along their sides. Fully-grown larvae may be 2 inches (50 mm) long. All have the black coloration with yellow stripes, prominent black horns arising from the second thoracic segment, and a row of small spines running along the body behind each of the horns.

Tomato Hornworm Caterpillar

The Tomato Hornworm larva is cylindrical in form, and bears five pairs of prolegs in addition to three pairs of thoracic legs. The most striking feature of the larva is a thick pointed structure or “horn,” located dorsally on the terminal abdominal segment.

The tomato hornworm bears eight whitish or yellowish “V”-shaped marks laterally, and pointing anteriorly. The “V”-shaped marks are not edged in black. Also, in tomato hornworm the “horn” tends to be black in color. Larval development time averages about 20 days.

Hickory Horned Devil

The hickory horned devil is among the largest of our native saturniid caterpillars. It is 12.5 to 14 cm in length – about the size of a hot dog. The caterpillars vary slightly in color, but are commonly blue-green. The second and third thoracic segments each bear two long and two shorter orange, black-tipped scoli (tubercles in the form of spinose projections of the body wall). The abdominal segments each have four short, black scoli, and segments 2 through 8 have a pale, oblique lateral stripe. Although the larva has a fierce appearance, it is harmless, and becomes a beautiful regal moth.

Luna Moth Caterpillar

These bright green full-grown caterpillars are 55 to 70 mm in length. There is a yellowish-white sub-spiracle line on abdominal segments one through seven and posterior yellow lines extending across the dorsum of segments one through seven to just above the level of the spiracles.

A mid-segmental transverse band of setae-bearing scoli occurs on all thoracic segments and abdominal segments one through eight. The body is sparsely covered with short, white, spatulate setae. The head varies from green to brown. Just prior to pupation, caterpillars turn a reddish color.

Early instars differ considerably in appearance from the later instars. Some fifth instars are considerably more setiferous (hairy) than others even among siblings.

A Truly Helpful Caterpillar Identification Chart

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There are several species of caterpillars all around you. A caterpillar identification chart will help you identify and distinguish one caterpillar from the other easily. It will also tell you which caterpillar is not to be tampered with since some of them are poisonous. Read on for enlightenment…..

Did You Know?

The word ‘caterpillar’ was intended to mean ‘hairy like a cat’ or ‘(having) cat hair’. It stems from the Latin words cattus meaning cat, and pelose, meaning hairy.

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Larvae of butterflies and moths are known as caterpillars. Due to the huge array of butterflies and moths, it is natural that there are several varieties of caterpillars too, making their identification difficult. Larvae of other insects such as beetles and sawflies also resemble caterpillars, but the specific term is only used to denote the larvae of butterflies and moths.

Some caterpillars are covered in poisonous hair or spines. The effects of such stings are similar to those of mild bee and wasp stings, but can also cause serious complications. A few of these caterpillars may be found on garden plants, so there is a chance that you have these poisonous caterpillars in your gardens. Therefore, it is imperative that you should be able to identify them correctly.

Some are green, yellow, red, or black; some have stripes, others have spots, some have horns, and some may even have thorns! Caterpillars are vastly different from each other – it is extremely difficult to distinguish between a butterfly larva from a moth larva. Anatomically, though, they all have strong mandibles to chew leaves, up to five pairs of pro-legs, and six simple eyes.

The main distinguishing factor between various caterpillar species is the body color pattern, presence of tapered tips (horns), and the presence of hair. Most caterpillars are colored either in shades that make them harder to spot against their host plant, such as greens and browns, or warning shades such as red, blue, orange, and yellow, that warn potential predators that the caterpillars are poisonous and unpalatable. Caterpillars that are colored distinctively or have large amounts of hair are likely to be poisonous, and should not be handled directly. The sting from some caterpillars can cause nausea, chest ache, digestive dysfunctions, and even death in people sensitive to certain substances. However, horns, if present, are not used as stingers (like in wasps or bees), and are not dangerous to humans. They in fact mimic the actual thorns on a tree, and provide camouflage to the caterpillar.

Non-Toxic Caterpillars

Below are the pictures and information of commonly found nonpoisonous caterpillars…..

Tobacco Hornworm (Manduca sexta)

The tobacco hornworm have one of the biggest caterpillars, almost 3-4 inches in length. They have seven white stripes on each side, and possess a harmless horn at the rear end.
They are found on plants in the Solanaceae family, including tobacco, tomato, peppers, and eggplant.

Common Mormon (Papilio polytes)

These larvae measure between 1 and 1.5 inches long. They are spiny and brown when immature, and populate citrus trees, curry leaves, or bael trees. The color brown with white patches resemble bird dropping which helps them camouflage. They secret a noxious chemicals with a foul smell to cast away predators.

Cloudless Sulfur (Phoebis sennae)

Like many caterpillars on this list, larvae of the cloudless sulfur butterfly are about 2 inches long. They populate plants such as the partridge pea, clovers, and various legumes. They can be seen in two predominant colors; green with a yellow lateral line, and yellow with black bands, blue patches are common to both. They build a tent in the host tree as a daytime resting place.

Cecropia Moth (Hylaphora cecropia)

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Cecropia moth caterpillars are quite large, measuring up to 4.5 inches. They are black in the intinal stages and in the later stages the color become green and later lighter shades of green. The body has distinct dorsal protuberances covered with spikes which makes it easy to identify this caterpillar. The protuberances on the back is yellow and on the side are blue. They populate the maple, cherry, apple, alder and birch trees.

Elephant Hawk Moth (Deilephila elpenor)

Elephant hawk moths are named for the caterpillar’s superficial resemblance to the shape and color of the elephant’s trunk. They have a horn at the rear end, and they adopt a snake-like stance when threatened. They feed on willowherb and bedstraw.

False Unicorn Caterpillar (Schizura ipomoeae)

These caterpillars measure around 2 inches, and can be mistaken for dried leaves. The color resembles a dried leave with grayish brown color and light black spots. It is called a false unicorn due to its absurd body structure. They feed on morning glory (ipomoea) plants, and beech, oak, and birch trees.

Geometrid Caterpillars (Geometridae family)

Geometrid caterpillars are known for their typical ‘looping’ gait. In fact, the name of the family is derived from the gait. Geometrid caterpillars appear to measure (meter) the earth (geo) between each step, hence the name. This behavior occurs because their middle appendages are poorly developed, and they rely on legs and hind prolegs for locomotion.

Giant Peacock Moth (Saturnia pyri)

The giant peacock moth is the largest moth in Europe. It can be easily identified with its sapphire blue tubercles. It primarily dwells on fruit trees like hawthorn, alder, and birch.

Light Knotgrass Moth (Acronicta menyanthidis)

These caterpillars are found on willow and birch trees, and heather, and various berries. It can be easily identified from its dark brown color with a red lateral line bearing white spots. The entire body is covered with hair. This caterpillar should not be confused with the very similar Brown Tail Moth Caterpillar (Euproctis chrysorrhoea), whose hair can highly irritate the skin and cause temporary blindness in case of eye contact.

Hickory Horned Devil (Citheronia regalis)

These are among the largest caterpillars, measuring just short of 6 inches. In the initial stage, the larvae resemble bird droppings. The seemingly aggressive horns and spines appear on the 5th instar, and are not poisonous to humans. They are found on ash trees, walnut, hazel, cotton, and honeysuckle.

Peach Blossom Moth (Thyatira batis)

This caterpillar is easy to spot due to its bumpy yellow skin, and a characteristic resting posture of raising both its ends in the air. They feed on plants in the rose family, such as raspberries and blackberries.

Peacock Butterfly (Inachis io)

These caterpillars are about 1.5 inches long, and feed on stinging and other nettles, and the common hop. They can be easily identified with their dark black color cover with white dots and stout spikes.

Puss Moth (Cerura vinula)

The puss moth is completely unrelated to the puss caterpillar, though the adults of both species are called ‘puss’ or ‘pussy’ moths. The caterpillars of the puss moth are more than 3 inches long. They are not toxic, but they may squirt formic acid (found in ant stings) if threatened. They are found in aspen, willow, and poplar trees.

White Admiral (Limenitis arthemis)

These caterpillars are found in birch, willow, aspen, and bitter cherry trees. It can be easily identified from its two horns, it resembles a bird dropping that helps it with camouflage. It is greenish brown in color with a lateral white line and a pink saddle.

Spicebush Swallowtail (Papilio troilus)

These ingenious caterpillars construct a shelter for themselves in the host plant. They join two ends of the leaves with their silk, which contracts as it dries, pulling the two ends together. It has a pale green in color with a brown under-skin, the abdominal region has blue spots with a fine black lining. The most striking characteristic is the two big false eyes on the metathorax. It is found in spicebush, Joe-Pye weeds, jewelweeds, honeysuckles, thistles, and mimosas.

Tomato Hornworm (Manduca Quinquemaculata)

Tomato hornworms are closely related to the tobacco hornworm (Manduca sexta), and are identified by eight V-shaped markings along their bodies. Like M.sexta, tomato hornworms inhabit plants in the Solanacae family.

Luna Moth (Actias luna)

These can reach a length of about 3.5 inches. The idenfication is the light green color and bright orange spots. They are found on birch, alder, persimmon, hickory, walnut, moonflower, and tomatoes.

Poplar Hawk-moth (Laothoe populi)

These caterpillars are quite stout, and are about 2.5 inches long. They have a green horn at the rear end. They resemble a leave which is its remarkable identity. As is obvious from the name, these are found on poplar trees. They are also found in aspens, and infrequently on willows, birches, elms, and oaks.

Mullein Moth (Cuculia verbasi)

This moth is notorious as a pest. The caterpillars are about 2 inches long. They feed on mulleins and figworts. The base color is grayish white which is covered with myriad black and yellow spots.

Citrus Swallowtail (Papilio demodocus)

These larvae are about 2 inches long. The immature larvae of this species mimic bird droppings in order to escape predators, and they may appear like that to humans as well. Adults have a foul-smelling but nonpoisonous organ called osmeterium, which they may extend defensively. As the name suggests, these caterpillars are found on citrus trees. The color commonly is black or brown with a white saddle. The younger larvae have hairs which decrease as they age.

Buff-tip Moth (Phalero bucephala)

These larvae can measure up to 3 inches, but are usually smaller than 2.5 inches. They can be quicly identified due to its unique pattern of yellow and black. These live in a group on trees such as oak, willows, elm, hazel, and rose plants.

Common Evening Brown (Melanitis leda)

Caterpillars of this butterfly are about 2 inches long. It can be easily identified with its triangular face with black and white stripe and two red horn structures. Adults and larvae of this species are considered pests since they feed on crops such as rice and bamboo, and grasses such as Cynodon.

Funerary Dagger Moth (Acronicta funeralis)

Funerary dagger moth caterpillars are born brown with white markings on the body. Later they turn to darker shades with the markings turning to bright yellow. They are found in alder, apple, dogwood, maple, blueberry, elm, and oak trees.

Mildly Toxic Caterpillars

Here are some mildly poisonous caterpillars that are best to be stayed away from..

American Dagger Moth Acronicta americana

These larvae are about 2 inches long. They have dense yellow setae (short hairs covering the body) that are mildly poisonous. It is also called the hairy caterpillar. It has a black head and a lemon yellow body. The body is covered with setae and few stinging tufts that are poisonous and may cause complications depending on your skin type. It is found primarily on maple, birch, horse chestnut, hazel, walnut, and oak trees.

Buck Moth (Hemileuca maia)

These larvae are 2 to 2.5 inches long. Buck moth caterpillars are poisonous, their stings can cause not only rashes but also nausea. It has a base black color with white spots on the upper segments of the body. The respiratory segment has light brown patches, the base color though predominantly black can also be found white. They populate oak forests and pupate either on the ground or near it.

Passion Butterfly (Agraulis vanilae)

These caterpillars are about 1.5 inches long―mostly smaller than that. They have soft, nonpoisonous spines. The identification is the bright orange color and branched spikes. They are not harmful to humans, but are poisonous when eaten, and are thus protected from predators. These larvae feed exclusively on passionflowers – thus the name of the species.

Gypsy Moth (Lymantria dispar dispar)

These caterpillars range from 2-3.5 inches, and can be fairly easily identified due to the conspicuous arrangement of colored dots on their back. Starting from the head, gypsy moth caterpillars have 5 blue and 6 red spots along their body. They are found on oak, aspen, apple, willows, pine, and spruce trees.

Mourning Cloak (Nymphalis antiopa)

The larvae of this ominously named butterfly are 1-2 inches long. The identification is a dark black body with a dim orange dorsal patches and white hair with few spikes.They live in a communally spun web on willow, aspen, and birch trees.

Pine Processionary (Thaumetopoea pityocampa)

These caterpillars are named after their marching behavior of traveling in a single file – procession. They build communal nests in their host trees. They are extremely toxic, and should never be handled. They can be identified from their orange color and white hairs. They are found on pine, cedar, and larch trees.

Pipevine Swallowtail (Battus philenor)

As the name suggests, these caterpillars feed almost exclusively on pipevines. The larva can be identified from its long tubercles and brown glossy color, the sub-dorsal tubercles are short and bright orange in color. The full-grown larva is red colored with sub-dorsal tubercles brown.

Puss Caterpillar (Megalopyge opercularis)

These seemingly appealing moths are one of the most toxic and dangerous of all caterpillars. Their spines can’t be seen at first glance due to their thick orange ‘fur’, making them even more dangerous. These reside in oak and elm trees, citruses, rose, and ivies.

Saddleback Caterpillar (Sibine stimulea)

This caterpillar gets its name due to the unusual appearance. It is basically the larva of a species of moth, and belongs to the family of slug caterpillars, Limacodidae. The name “slug caterpillar” is due to the slight resemblance to slugs. A sting from these caterpillars can be quite painful. The back of this caterpillar resembles a fancy saddle of a horse. They are found on various plants, including the Christmas palm.

Silver-spotted Tiger Moth (Lophocampa argentata)

These caterpillars are found on Douglas-fir trees. It can be easily identified by its color that resembles a tiger. The body is covered with hairs, any contact with its hair can cause skin irritation. It may also lead to further complications depending on the skin type.

Six-spot Burnet (Zygaena filipendulae)

These conspicuous caterpillars are found on clover and birdsfoot trefoil trees. The identification is easy, it is light yellow in color with black dorsal patches and white hair. It warns off predators with the bright color projecting danger. It has the ability to produce cyanide which can harm or potentially kill the predator.

Rusty Tussock Moth (Orgyia antiqua)

These caterpillars are less than 2 inches long, and are found in birch, oak, willow, and lime trees. The distinct identification is the black hairpencil. The body color resembles that of rust. The skin hair is white barring the hairpencil.

Spurge Hawk-moth (Hyles euphorbiae)

As the name suggests, these moths feed on spurges. In fact they are often used as a natural pesticide to purge out the weed. When consumed they can give some serious gastric trouble. The one thing characteristic about these caterpillars is the vivid color. They are adorn with red and yellow stripes and light colored spots all over their body. Its hard to mistake it for anything else for it is truly one of its kind.

Eastern Tent Caterpillar (Malacosoma americanum)

These caterpillars can be easily identified by their communal tent in the host plant, and their defensive behavior. Their hair may cause skin irritation. There has been an instance in Kentucky where a large number of mares suffered miscarriage, which was found to be a result of an Eastern Tent Caterpillar outbreak. They can be found on cherry and maple trees.

Sycamore Moth (Acronicta aceris)

These striking caterpillars are not poisonous. They don’t have sharp spines and can be handled, but repeated handling may lead to skin irritation. It has bright yellow hair with shades of orange and white dorsal spots. It devours on aspen, willow, and poplar.

Caterpillars are fascinating to observe, annoying when in your home, and deadly if carelessly handled. It’s best to keep it at arm’s distance, though it is certainly not necessary to kill them. Like any other creature, it is more scared of you than you are of it. Just drop it outside, and it won’t bother you any more.

How to identify common British caterpillars

Illustrations by Felicity Rose Cole


Why are caterpillars so varied?

Caterpillars can’t easily escape from predators because they’re slow-moving and haven’t grown wings yet. That means they either have to rely on camouflage so that predators don’t notice them (which gives us caterpillars that look like leaves, plant stems etc) or they’ve evolved to be bright and spikey so anything that might want to eat them knows that it would be a bad idea!

Photo © Russell Burden / Getty


Large white caterpillar Pieris brassicae (above)

These caterpillars are only 45mm long and fatten up on cabbages, lettuces and nasturtiums within four weeks – consequently they are considered a pest by farmers and gardeners. In fact, adults are referred to as cabbage white butterflies. The caterpillars accumulate large concentrations of mustard oil from their diet and their bright, spotted body warns would-be predators of their foul taste.

Large white caterpillars can be seen from June to September. Adults are active between April and October, when they lay bright yellow eggs on the underside of the leaves of plants that the caterpillars feed on.

Cabbage white, or large white, butterflies are the largest of the three white butterflies in Britain.


Small tortoiseshell caterpillar Aglais urticae

Small tortoiseshell caterpillar

Green eggs are laid in clusters on stinging nettles and the spiny, black-and-yellow caterpillars then live together, building a communal silk web and feeding on nearby leaves in order to grow to 30mm long. As they grow, they move to new plants and build new webs, leaving old ones full of shed skins.

Living together benefits the caterpillars because they can undulate their bodies in unison, appearing as one large organism, in an attempt to scare away predators. Eventually, individual caterpillars crawl away separately to pupate.

Small tortoiseshell caterpillars can be seen from May to June, with adults potentially being active all year. The adult butterfly appears throughout the UK, but its numbers are lately decreasing.


Comma caterpillar Polygonia c-album

Comma caterpillar

These caterpillars grow to 35mm and reside on hops and stinging nettles. The burnt-orange-and-black hatchlings develop a white ‘saddle’ mark which resembles a bird dropping, thus deterring predators.

When small, it feeds on the undersides of leaves, but as it grows it feeds on the upper side. The caterpillars change colour quite a lot throughout their larval stage, but older caterpillars are the most distinctive.

Comma caterpillars are seen from late April to mid-September, but the butterflies are active year-round. In the 1800s it suffered a marked decline, likely due to a reduction in the planting of its favoured food, hop, but it has since experienced a resurgence.


Cinnabar moth caterpillar Tyria jacobaeae

Cinnabar moth caterpillar

The feeding patterns of this caterpillar are distinctive, giving a shredded appearance to the common ragwort which they feed upon. Growing to 28mm, these black-and-yellow caterpillars are very distinctive and easy to identify as they look like they’re wearing a rugby shirt.

The caterpillars feed in groups, mainly in the daytime, from July to early September. When the leaves of the plant are gone, they sometimes resort to cannibalism. They pupate underground, instead of in a chrysalis on a tree like other caterpillars.

Adults fly from May to early August. ‘Boom and bust’ population fluctuations locally.


Buff-tip moth caterpillar Phalera bucephala

Buff-tip moth caterpillar

Feeding on oak leaves, this black-and-yellow caterpillar grows to 70mm long and has hairs which cause irritation to humans and do a good job of warding off predators.

After hatching from the egg cluster, larvae feed together, moving off alone when they grow to larger sizes. The caterpillars are fully grown in 30 days and pupate underground during winter.

Buff-tip moth caterpillars are found between July and early October. Adults are active from late May to July, and their markings are designed to look as if the moth has a broken wing.


Pale tussock moth caterpillar Calliteara pudibunda

Pale tussock moth caterpillar

The caterpillars can grow up to 45mm and reach full size in about two months. They are found on various broadleaved trees and shrubs, including birch and hops, and are colloquially known as ‘hop dog.’ The bristles on the caterpillar’s body are known for causing skin irritation to humans.

Pale tussock moth caterpillars can be seen from late June to early October, but in the autumn they are more likely to be seen as they crawl about looking for somewhere to pupate. Adults fly between July and August and are a handsome grey moth with comb-like antennae.


Sycamore moth caterpillar Acronicta aceris

Sycamore moth caterpillar

Find these on sycamore, horse chestnut, London plane, and cultivated and field maples. They are an urban species and very distinctive with their bright-orange hairs and black-and-white diamond patterns along the back. These caterpillars, which grow up to 40mm long, occasionally drop from the trees they feed on and land on walkers.

Sycamore moth caterpillars are found from July to September. They pupate on the ground in the winter, in debris like bark and leaf litter. The adults are active from mid-June to early August.


Vapourer moth caterpillar Orgyia antiqua

Vapourer moth caterpillar

A funky-looking, highly recognisable moth covered in bizarre tufts which make them distasteful to predators. There is some evidence of a distinct all-yellow tufted Cornish variation, however most have a grey body with red spots.

The vapourer life-cycle is strange among moths. Flightless female moths look like large, hairy fleas – because they don’t fly, they are not held back by the weight of the great many eggs in their bulbous abdomens. After they mate, they lay eggs on the side of their cocoon and the eggs hatch at different times over the course of eight weeks.

Look for them on native or cultivated trees or shrubs from May to early September. Adults fly from July to October in the south and September to October in the north.


Knot grass moth caterpillar Acronicta rumicis

Knot grass moth caterpillar

The caterpillars reach 40mm in length over the course of thirty days, feeding on sorrel, broadleaved dock, mint and bramble. The species is widespread, but there are two generations per year in southern Britain. They pupate during wintertime in chrysalises among ground cover and dead leaves.

Knot grass moth caterpillars can be found from June to October. The mottled black-and-white adults fly from May to June and from August to early September.


Grey dagger moth caterpillar Acronicta psi

Grey dagger moth caterpillar

After emerging from eggs which take only a week to hatch, the caterpillars grow to 40mm over the course of about thirty days. They feed in broadleaved trees and shrubs, such as hawthorn, apple and birch. Their yellow stripe serves as camouflage on plant stems.

The caterpillars can feed with a ‘cookie-cutter’ method, taking circular bites that only go halfway through the leaf. The chrysalises are a shiny reddish-brown and overwinter in the bark of trees, or in leaf litter.

Grey dagger moth caterpillars can be found from July to early October. The whitish adults are active from mid-May to August.


Dot moth caterpillar Melanchra persicariae

Dot moth caterpillar

In less than a month, these caterpillars grow to 45mm. Found feeding on a wide range of herbs and shrubs, you can recognise them by their brown or green colouring, always with ‘go-faster’ chevrons along the back which create a sort of optical illusion. They also have three distinctive pale lines behind the head, one extending the length of the caterpillars back, and one either side of this.

Dot moth caterpillars are found from August to October, after which they pupate in a dark-brown cocoon underground. The dark blue-black adults have a white dot on each wing and fly from late June to August.


Lime hawk-moth caterpillar Mimas tiliae

Lime hawk-moth caterpillar

Large caterpillars, up to 70mm, with a distinctive blue tail horn. You can find them mainly on lime, particularly in urban areas, but also on birch and alder. Look for bright-green bodies which turn a dark greyish-purple when they are full-grown and ready to pupate. The chrysalis is spun in dead leaves, either on the ground or where they accumulate between the branches of trees.


Lime hawk-moth caterpillars can be seen from late June to mid-September. 80mm adults are striking, subtly green and pink, and fly from May to early June

You might think caterpillars only have to worry about birds and other predators, but what happens when your food explodes?

However, the female polka-dot moth relies on yet another strategy to attract her mate. By vibrating plates called tymbals on the sides of her thorax, the female moth creates a rhythmic clicking sound, a kind of a mothy “yoo-hoo” to attract a suitor. In return, the male adds his own clicks to create an ultrasonic duet. Although their love songs are beyond the range of the human ear, if the lucky couple harmonizes successfully, the result of their union may be dozens of tiny orange caterpillars decorating oleander.

If travel brings you to the sunny climes of Florida or the Caribbean in the near future, be sure to visit an oleander or two and perhaps you will catch a glimpse of the wonderful polka-dot wasp moth or its offspring, the aposematic oleander caterpillar.

The web page listed below and two fascinating articles, “Cardiac glycosides (heart poisons) in the polka-dot moth Syntomeida epilais Walk. (Ctenuchidae: Lep.) with some observations on the toxic qualities of Amata (=Syntomis) phegea (L.)” by M. Rothschild and her colleagues, and “Courtship sounds of the polka-dot wasp moth, Syntomeida epilais” by M. Sanderford and W. Conner, were used to prepare this episode. To learn more about the polka-dot wasp moth, please visit the wonderful ‘Featured Creature’ article by H. McAuslane, “Oleander caterpillar, Syntomeida epilais Walker”, at the following website:

Giant Leopard Moth (Hypercompe scribonia)

The rings and spots of the Giant Leopard Moth distract from its boldly patterned, robust body.

This white tiger moth has distinct black rings as well as black spots, similar to those seen in leopards, all over its white wings. The Giant Leopard Moth can grow to enormous sizes compared to other moths, fitting comfortably in the palm of an adult’s hand. Males are almost two times larger than females. The body is an iridescent blue-black with reddish-orange bands and side stripes. Legs are covered in black and white bands. As a defense against predators, they release a foul-tasting, yellow fluid when they are frightened. Like most moths, they are nocturnal and are attracted to lights at night.
During mating, a male covers part of the female with his wings. Mating takes many hours so the male may lift and carry the female throughout the session to warmer or cooler areas. The caterpillar of the Giant Leopard Moth has a black body with red bands that are revealed when it stretches. The entire thing is covered in clusters of long, black spiky hairs. It is commonly called a ‘woollybear’. This caterpillar is an exception to the ‘Don’t touch spiky caterpillars’ rule. The hairs do not sting and the caterpillar does not bite, so it is safe to gently handle. They often curl up when touched. These larvae eat from a wide variety of trees ranging from willow, maple, and magnolia to cherry, lemon, orange and banana. They also eat smaller plants like pokeweed, sunflowers, violets, cabbage, and dandelion.
Typical habitats for this moth include woodland edges, fields or meadows, gardens, and orchards/groves. Thanks to the caterpillar’s varied diet, they are comfortable in both developed and wild areas, improving everyone’s chances of seeing one. They are on the wing from April through September.

Weird & Wonderful Creatures: Giant Leopard Moth

jul 20 2016

Giant leopard moth. Photo Credit: WhyzPhotos at English Wikipedia. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons.

The giant leopard moth (Hypercompe scribonia) grows from a red-striped “woolly bear”-type caterpillar to a white-spotted moth large enough to fit comfortably in an adult’s hand.
As an adult, the moth is noteworthy in its appearance: Its wings are bright white, with a pattern of black and shiny blue dots (some solid and some hollow) sprinkled across them. It has a wingspan of three inches, and when its wings are spread, you can see its colorful abdomen: The top side is iridescent blue with orange markings, while the underside is white with solid black dots. Its legs have black and white bands. Male moths (they have a yellow band along the side of their abdomens) are approximately two inches long, while females grow to slightly more than half that size.

As a caterpillar, the giant leopard moth grows to approximately two inches long and has shiny black bristles covering its body. Unlike some other “hairy” creatures, these caterpillars’ bristles are not urticant, which means that they don’t break off in predators when touched, causing irritation and discomfort. Because the giant leopard moth’s bristles do not cause this reaction, it’s okay to gently touch the caterpillar. If you do, it may react by curling up in a ball, which will let you see the red or orange bands between its body segments. The caterpillar will hibernate over the winter in this form and will spin itself into a cocoon in the spring.

“Giant Leopard Moth caterpillar (Hypercompe scribonia).” Photo Credit: Aaron Carlson. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0, via Flickr.

The caterpillar eats a variety of broad-leafed plants, including violets, sunflowers, basil, dandelions, and lettuce, as well as a leaves from a number of trees, including willows, mulberries, maples, and cherries.

The giant leopard moth can be found across fields, meadows, and forest edges of eastern North America and as far south as Colombia in South America. It is nocturnal, flying only at night, and adults can be seen between April and September. When handled or threatened, it may release drops of foul-tasting yellow fluid from its thorax to ward off predators.

If you think moths are interesting, you can sign up for and participate in National Moth Week, July 23–31, a citizen science activity. You can read more about it in this blog post from 2014. You can also check out the Journey North App, which can help you track moths’ and other animals’ migrations and seasons, and Nowhere to Hide, a Flash-based interactive that demonstrates the story of the peppered moths in England during the Industrial Revolution. Scientists recently found the gene that explains their story.

Do you think butterflies are cooler than moths? Learn more about them in the Butterfly 1: Observing the Life Cycle of a Butterfly and Butterfly 2: A Butterfly’s Home lessons for grades K-2.

Did you know that a cocoon and a chrysalis are not the same thing? You can find out what the difference is here.

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