Monday, August 30, 2010

Help - Can You Identify this Caterpillar????

OK - I know there are some really knowledgeable entomologists out there and I'm hoping you can help...

The girls found this cute caterpillar (named it Chrysalis) crawling on our patio 3-4 weeks ago so I thought it would be a fun way for us to watch him/her molt and morph into a butterfly and then release into the wild once it changes - sounds simple enough, right? Just a black fuzzy guy with some orange markings - very ate lots of our sweet gum leaves, thrived well (those little droppings are poop)...and did you know caterpillars shed their hairs?!? Yup, you can see them if you enlarge the picture!

It molted once and continued to gorge on the fresh leaves we provided... We were careful not to handle it as we didn't want to scare it - just watch from a distance.

Well, I was getting concerned that it wasn't changing yet and the habitat was getting pretty dirty with the poops so we carefully put it in a plastic container for about 1-2 minutes while I cleaned the enclosure (one of those butterfly habitats). I had placed a cross-like stick in there so it could climb up and form the chrysalis when ready, but that's not what happened next...

Instead, it started to form a web...

And then we saw it turn this color - Charley could literally see its color change. Next time we checked, it was back to a darker color, so perhaps it molted again and you can see the left over skin to the left of it.

And today, this is what it looks like. Last night, I shone a flashlight on it and could see its face moving toward the light so it was clearly alive in there, but I don't know much of anything about this process and always believed they would hang from a leaf or branch. Is this a different kind and it changes on the ground? Is this the chrysalis? (click on picture to enlarge)

I did read up on caterpillars when we brought it in to study so I know they will form webs to keep them safe from predators, but the only other info I could find were about tent caterpillars and I didn't think this one was a tent one.

It looked like a fox moth caterpillar, but I just don't know. Does anyone want to venture a guess? I'm not going to disturb it in case it does change. We had just planned on watching it change and wanted to let it go as soon as it becomes a butterfly or moth. But now I'm wondering what is going on...anyone have any thoughts? Kelly???? You're so good with things like this - help!

Guess we'll wait 7-14 days and see if something eventually emerges...I just came up cold on my searches to find out what kind it is and now with this behavior, I'm completely stumped!


  1. My first reaction was: tent caterpillar -- we had a plague here in the spring. I think there are several different kinds. Some of them really like sweet gum leaves.

  2. Hi all you dear ones in California :)
    Toucie received a pretty AWESOME package in the mail this week!!!!! I can't tell you how wonderful it was to watch her open it...she was radiant with joy. I am going to post photos of her discovering the dolls on my blog later this week...heart-melting. Thank you so so very much for the gift...your talent and generosity overwhelm me. Elena and Charlie's picture is hanging in a spot of honor...please let them know how special Toucie feels to have received gifts from children who have never even met her...she thinks they are wonderful!
    Oh, and by the way...I think your caterpillar is a Giant Leopard Moth larvae and may turn out like the one pictured on the blue background in this older post from my blog:

    Google some images of "giant leopard moth caterpillar" and see if you think its true...if so, the girls might have to consider a name change to "Cocoon"! (doesn't have the same pretty ring to it, does it?)

    Much love!

  3. I can't wait to find out what it becomes!