Bristly Night Crawler

Be not preoccupied with looking. Go not to the object; let it come to you.

~Henry David Thoreau

Giant Leopard Moth caterpillar 1

Large caterpillar on the stone path at night (click on photos to enlarge)

The other night, the object of interest and I met on the walkway, me barely avoiding stepping on it as I carried in some stuff from my car after dark. Luckily, the light of the walkway lights illuminated this very large caterpillar so I was able to step over it.

Giant Leopard Moth caterpillar

Giant Leopard Moth caterpillar with quarter for scale

Although it superficially resembles the familiar Woolly Worm caterpillar of purported weather forecasting fame, I recognized this one as the larva of the Giant Leopard Moth, Hypercompe scribonia, from its large size, abundant black bristles, and red bands between the body segments. They really are big caterpillars, this one being about 3 inches long. They spend the day in leaf litter or under debris and come out at night to feed on a variety of plant materials. This guy was chewing on an old Tulip Poplar flower petal laying on the stone. Although appearing formidable and potentially hazardous to handle, they are harmless.

Giant Leopard Moth caterpillar defensive posture

Defensive posture

When I gently touched it, the caterpillar curled into its distinctive defensive posture, which really reveals the bright red colors between segments. Given that the adult moths secrete defensive chemicals, it is safe to assume this warning coloration in the larva also signals some bad taste to any that might want to dine on this bristly night crawler. Caterpillars can be found almost any time of year as they probably have a couple of generations in this portion of their range, and they overwinter as larvae. The adults are large, gorgeous moths. Here is a link to some images from the Moth Photographers Group. Hopefully, I will have my own images before the summer is over.

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