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DESCRIBING A CATERPILLAR

How many times have you found a caterpillar and wondered what it was? You find someone like me on the ‘net and email them to find out how to take care of your new friend. They reply, as I have many times, with more questions for you than you had for them. There are thousands of species of butterflies and moths throughout the world, and no two are alike. In advising you on the care of your caterpillar, any good butterfly hugger will want to know exactly what you have. There is nothing like guessing the wrong species, and telling someone to feed it the wrong plant. Your caterpillar will probably starve.

Try to give your advisor as much information as possible, this takes some observation on your part. Most likely you’ll have to look at it very close, take some notes, and observe its actions. Often the smallest piece of information will tell you what you have. Here are just a few tips:

Where are you? What part of the country you’re in makes a lot of difference. Not all species fly all over the US and many times they can even be different colors in different parts of the country. Tell your advisor what city and state you’re in, as well as if you’re in the city or the country.

Where did you find your caterpillar? Was it on a plant or walking on the sidewalk? If it was wandering, most likely, it was looking for a place to pupate and feeding isn’t necessary. If it was on a plant, chances are that this is its host plant. This is one of the biggest clues to identifying it, because most caterpillars have very specific diets, and only eat a few plants. Do your best to identify this plant.

Was it a single caterpillar, or did you did you find a group of them? Some butterflies lay eggs singly, and others lay them in huge masses. Many caterpillars are solitary, while others feed in large groups.

What does it look like? To tell someone it’s a large, black caterpillar doesn’t help. Big black fuzzy caterpillar is the same – get as specific as possible. Give an approximate length and diameter. Describe any markings it has; stripes, spots, dots, lines, etc. Many caterpillars have ‘eyespots’ on their heads. What color are these spots? How many stripes does it have and are they longwise or crosswise on its body, and how many are there? Is it fuzzy or hairy (there IS a difference, woolly bears are fuzzy; oleander cats are hairy)? What color is the hair? How about spines or spikes? WHERE are they located? Some caterpillars have one horn on their rear-end, some have spines all over their bodies, and some have ‘knobs’ right behind the head. What color are these spikes, spines, horns, or knobs?

Describe any peculiarities in its actions – night feeder or day feeder? Does it spin a web and eat inside it? Does it cut leaves and wrap them around itself? Does it fall off its leaf when disturbed and hang from a silken thread? Does it rear its head or tail in attempts to frighten you away?

Describe how your caterpillar looks as accurately as you can. Observe it for a few moments and note any thing you see. All these clues will help in identification of your mystery caterpillar. It makes the job easier in identification. If I don’t know what it is, knowing where you are will give me an idea of who to go to for advice. I’ve met butterfly huggers all around the U.S., and it seems we all have our areas of expertise. Once we’ve figured out what it is that you have, then we can advise you on the FUN part – raising your caterpillar.



PREVIOUS ARTICLES:
A balcony garden June 2000
The butterfly house  May 2000
Unlocking the mysteries of a seed  Apr 2000
The art of companion planting  Mar 2000
What the heck is a host plant?  Feb 2000
What is a butterfly garden?  Jan 2000

Next month's article????  Any ideas????????  

I'm sorry there hasn't been an article since July.  I just haven't had (or taken) time to write an article since then.  Soon as I find some time, I'll get a new one done!


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