Trying to Identify Caterpillar found in my Ficus Hedge
Found these critters all over my ficus hedge in South Florida. The best description I can think of is that they look almost like rubber bugs. The skin is a shiny orange/brown color and the spiny things (sorry I do not know the technical term) are like thick individual strands of stubbly shiny black hair. They are pure entertainment for my 2 year old daughter. During a recent Tropical Storm I decided to try and save the little guys and bring them inside. To our delight we woke up the next day to see several of them have begun the next stage of their metamorphosis and have created bark-like cocoons suspended upside down from a branch of ficus. Can you help me identify what they are, and also is it best that I leave the cocoons inside until they hatch or should I now return them to the hedge. I do not want to disturb them any more than I already have. Please let me know. Also, what plants can I put in our garden to keep the butterflies around once the hatch?
Pembroke Pines, Florida
This looks like the caterpillar and chrysalis of the Gulf Fritillary, a pretty orange butterfly. The host plant is always listed as passion flower with on alternate. We can only guess that they were so hungry, the ficus seemed appealing, or, more likely, there is some passion vine growing in your ficus hedge. If you want Gulf Fritillaries, plant passiflora. In our yard, the butterflies also take nectar from lantana and cosmos.