Location: North central West Virginia
September 26, 2010 6:52 am
My friend and I found this cute little guy on the first day of fall, September 22, crawling towards us as we sat in the shade of a sycamore tree, close to the creek bank in my horse field. When it got within a foot or so it raised the front portion of its body and kind of swayed side to side, reminiscent of a curious snake, but it really reminds us of a chipmunk (pic #1). When she agitated it with the leaf (trying to contain it while I was getting the camera) 2 horn/antennae came out but were withdrawn quickly. The black spots look just like eyes, while the smaller spots behind them look like ears. When we were trying to photograph the ”horns” she tried to pick it up and it put off an ugly odor (pic #2). Unlike other caterpillars I have seen, this one has a round mouth on the underside, (pic #3) that made me think of some kind of a sucker. Please help us with this, it was a great experience to run into this little guy but we are flashing his picture around like cops looking for a missing person to no avail. No one we know has ever seen anything like this.
Signature: Jerri Kelley
You encountered a Spicebush Swallowtail Caterpillar, and the eyespots are a very effective means for discouraging predators into thinking the bite-sized caterpillar might actually be a larger and significantly dangerous predator like a snake. The horns are a scent organ that produced the odor you noticed and they are known as the osmetrium. You can get more information on BugGuide.
Thank you so much for your help. 2 pages after I submitted my request I found the picture identifying the little bugger. As many swallowtail butterflies that we have around here, it’s surprising that this was my first encounter with the caterpillar. Again, thank you. Jerri