Sunday, October 07, 2018

What's That Caterpillar?

This year it seems there are an abundance of caterpillars about and some of them are unusual. Here are two that friends and family have been seeing and were new to me. They are both are native species!

ceanothus silk moth, photo by Joleen Lutz
The ceanothus silk moth caterpillar is typically found on our native ceanothus, but will also eat willow, manzanita and other chaparral plants. They are large plump green caterpillars. Charles L. Hogue's classic book "Insects of the Los Angeles Basin" says they can reach up to 4 inches. They are different from monarch caterpillars in that instead of stripes they have funky tubercles or fleshy bumps that stick up like warts. 

This green caterpillar will become a beautiful rusty-brown moth with dramatic white markings. As an adult it will be almost the size of a hummingbird. It's life as a moth will be fairly short because as an adult it does not eat at all.

white-lined sphinx moth, photo by Sherri Seymer
The white-lined sphinx moth is also quite large, but it feeds on nectar like a hummingbird. It's dramatically colored caterpillar eats a variety of chaparral shrubs and introduced plants. Hogue says they are often found on fuchsia. Down in Orange County there seem to be a large number of these striped caterpillars with red heads, horn, and legs. The sphinx moth is an important plant pollinator and always good to have in your garden.

Some other local caterpillars and their butterfly or moth adulthood.
mourning cloak butterfly and caterpillar
chocolate looper moth
what's that butterfly?
monarch butterfly
anise swallowtail
painted lady butterfly



Cindy said...

I think the second photo is a red humped caterpillar, Schizura concinna.
Bugguide images here:

Keri Dearborn said...

This is a good catch. I think Cindy is correct. This second caterpillar could be a red-humped caterpillar, an agricultural pest. They are not typically seen in coastal Orange County. For more info see the UC Ag website:

Anonymous said...

We have a tree with about 100 of these in Lake Forest (Orange County) CA