Location: Houston Texas
April 6, 2012 9:35 pm
My Lantanna Bush is crewling with these caterpillars. They aren’t on any other plant or bush. I have one in captivity and am having fun watching this funny creature devour the blossoms of this plant. I also have a great closeup video.
what is this and what will it be when it transforms?? How long does it take before he spins his cocoon?
This caterpillar is one of the Tiger Moth Caterpillars commonly called Woolly Bears. We did a web search to see if any species are known to feed on Lantana, and we found a photo on Fred Walsh’s blog of a Woolly Bear similar to your individual, also from Texas, but it is not identified to the species level. Upon searching BugGuide, we found a photo that looks nearly identical to your caterpillar, and it is identified as a Salt Marsh Moth, Estigmene acrea, however, BugGuide does not list Lantana as a food plant despite providing a long list of larval food plants. The University of Florida Extension website has a nice page on the Saltmarsh Caterpillar [note alternate spelling], and though they mention numerous host plants, Lantana is not on the list. If our identification is correct, this caterpillar will eventually metamorphose into a white and orange moth with black spots known as the Salt Marsh Moth.
Thanks so much. Yes I saw all of the references you mentioned while searching. I am going to see if I can find a group here in Houston. There is a meeting Tuesday nite near me of the Outdoor Nature Club that I may attend. This little guy originally ate the leaves but now prefers the flowers. Do you have any idea how long it will be before he spins his cocoon?? I polaced a stick in the box with him hoping he will use it.
Hi again Joan,
According to BugGuide: “One generation per year in the far north, 2 in southern Quebec and Ontario, 3 or 4 generations in the south. Overwinters as a pupa in a spacious cocoon; adults emerge in early spring. Females lay 400-1200 eggs in clusters on leaves of host; eggs hatch in 4-5 days, and larvae pass through 5 instars over a period of 20-45 days; larvae are active dispersers, and are often found wandering over the soil in search of suitable food.” You would live in an area considered the South, so if there were 3-4 generations, we expect pupation to occur very soon, and the pupa stage would probably last about a month. The length of time in the caterpillar stage most likely depends on temperature as well as the availability of food.
Update from Joan
April 10, 2012
My litltle guy has gone into hibernation, Day before yesterday he stopped eating and seemed anxious as he crawled all over the box, for some reason I decided to add a small pile of crushed dry leaves at the base of his stick and later in the day I saw him under that pile. Yesterday I could clearly see signs of the silky threads of a cocoon under the debris. This is exciting and I look forward to seeing what will emerge. I found this link that seems to be exactly what my caterpillar looks like: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arctia_caja
However all of the information is very differen regarding the timeline and food source etc. I will keep an eye on him and see what happens in the weeks to come.
Thanks Joan. Please keep us posted and we would love a photo after the moth emerges.