The paddle caterpillar, also known as the saddleback caterpillar, is a fascinating creature found in various parts of the United States. As the larval stage of the limacodid or slug moth (Acharia stimulea), this inch-long caterpillar is easily recognizable by its bright green color and distinctive brownish-purple spot in the middle of its back, reminiscent of a saddle for pack animals 1.
Not only does the saddleback caterpillar have a unique appearance, but it also has defensive mechanisms that set it apart from many other caterpillars. The spines that cover its body can release venom upon contact, which can cause pain, itching, and in some cases, more severe reactions. To protect yourself, it’s important to learn how to identify the saddleback caterpillar and exercise caution when near them.
In this article, you’ll learn about the saddleback caterpillar’s life cycle, its preferred habitats, and the signs of contact with its venomous spines. You’ll also gain insight into how these fascinating creatures contribute to their ecosystem. So, let’s dive in and discover all there is to know about paddle caterpillars!
Paddle Caterpillar Overview
Species and Varieties
Paddle caterpillars are not actually a specific species of caterpillar, but a possible misinterpretation of similar-looking insects. Two known caterpillars that share similar characteristics are the Asp Caterpillar and the Packsaddle Caterpillar:
|Known as the Puss Caterpillar or Southern Flannel Moth
|Also known as the Saddleback
|Small and hairy
|Bright green with a brownish-purple spot on its back
- Asp Caterpillars are small and hairy, with a distinctive tuft of fur-like spines on their back.
- Packsaddle Caterpillars have a saddle-like brownish-purple spot on their back, providing its unique appearance.
These distinctive features make these caterpillars interesting to look at and easier to identify. Remember to enjoy their beauty from a safe distance, as some may have stinging hairs or spines that can cause irritation.
Habitat and Distribution
The Paddle Caterpillar, also known as the Saddleback Caterpillar, can be found throughout eastern North America, from Georgia to Illinois1. Their range includes:
- Other parts of eastern North America
Finding Paddle Caterpillars in the Wild
To find Paddle Caterpillars in the wild, look for them on various host plants, such as:
- Sweet gum
Pros and cons of searching for Paddle Caterpillars in the wild:
|Appreciation for nature
|Hard to locate
Be cautious when approaching, as their stinging hairs can cause irritation. Remember to respect their habitat and maintain a friendly distance.
Life Cycle and Behavior
The saddleback caterpillar, also known as the packsaddle caterpillar, is a bright green larva with a brownish-purple spot in the middle of its back. During this stage, it is about 1 inch long and has urticating hairs located on knobs at the front and rear, as well as smaller knobs on the sides. Their primary job at this stage is to feed on various types of leaves.
Some key features of the larval stage include:
- Bright green color
- Urticating hairs on knobs
- Brownish-purple spot resembling a saddle
Examples of their preferred food include oak, dogwood, and plum tree leaves.
Once mature, the saddleback caterpillar transforms into a moth, which has a glossy dark brown color with a single white dot near the forewing base. The moths have dense scales giving them a furry appearance, and females are typically larger than males with a wingspan ranging from 26-43 mm (1.0-1.7 inches).
Some characteristics of the adult stage include:
- Glossy dark brown color
- Furry appearance due to dense scales
- Wingspan 26-43 mm, with females larger than males
|Bright green with brownish-purple spot
|Glossy dark brown
|Approximately 1 inch long
|Wingspan: 26-43 mm (1.0-1.7 inches)
|Urticating hairs, saddle-like spot
|Furry appearance, white dot on forewing
Both the larval and adult stages are important in the life cycle of these fascinating creatures, and understanding their unique characteristics can help to better appreciate their role in nature.
Safety Tips and Irritation
Stinging Spines and Venom
The Packsaddle caterpillar, also known as saddleback, has spines on its back that can cause pain and irritation. Here are some tips for dealing with these outdoors:
- Be cautious around them and avoid direct contact
- Wear gloves and protective clothing while gardening
When accidentally touched, the spines may release venom, leading to:
- Intense pain
- Redness and swelling
- Itching and burning sensations
Handling and Treatment
If you come into contact with a Packsaddle caterpillar, take these steps for safe handling and treatment:
- Gently remove the spines using tape or tweezers
- Wash the affected area with soap and water
- Apply a cold compress to reduce swelling
For pain and irritation relief, consider using:
- Over-the-counter painkillers
- Antihistamine creams or oral medication
- Hydrocortisone cream
Remember, it’s essential to avoid direct contact with these caterpillars and seek medical attention if symptoms worsen.
Featured Species: Acronicta Funeralis
Funerary Dagger Moth Lifecycle
- Egg stage: laid by adult moths on host
Paddle Sports Equipment
Shoes and Clothing
- Shoes: Choose appropriate footwear with good grip and support for paddle sports. Options include water shoes, sandals, or sneakers that won’t be damaged by water.
- Clothing: Wear comfortable, quick-drying, and sun-protective clothes. Depending on the weather, opt for a wetsuit or drysuit for colder temperatures.
Paddle Selection and Technology
Different paddles cater to various skill levels, materials, and prices. Here’s a comparison table to help with your selection:
- Power: A heavier paddle provides more drive and energy but may be harder to maneuver.
- Control: Lighter paddles allow for better control and spin.
Balls and Accessories
- Balls: Pick balls with good bounce and durability. The weight and design of balls vary for different paddle sports.
- Accessories: Consider getting a paddle cover or bag to protect your equipment. Don’t forget essentials like sunscreen, hats, and sunglasses for sun protection.
The Paddle Caterpillar, commonly known as the Saddleback Caterpillar, is a fascinating species. As you explore more about this caterpillar, there are several resources available to enrich your understanding.
- You can learn more about their appearance, habitat, and behavior in this Saddleback Caterpillars factsheet.
Saddleback Caterpillars prefer a variety of leaves for feeding. Examples of their host plants include:
For those researching the field of caterpillars, comparing the Saddleback to similar species like the Eastern Tent Caterpillar and Forest Tent Caterpillar can be useful. The following websites provide helpful information on these comparisons:
Making a comparison table can aid in distinguishing these species:
|Eastern Tent Caterpillar
|Spins tent-like nests, prevalent in eastern North America
|Black and hairy, prefers fruits trees
|Forest Tent Caterpillar
|Spreads silk mats, not spinning nests
|Blueish shade, likes hardwood trees
|Distinctive saddle-shaped markings, stinging hairs
|Green with brown spot, feeds on leaves
Finally, understanding the life cycle of the Saddleback Caterpillar is essential. They overwinter in tough silk cocoons and metamorphose into fuzzy, dark brown moths. You can learn more about their life cycle here.
So, enjoy your journey exploring the intriguing world of the Paddle Caterpillar while relying on these helpful resources.
Over the years, our website, whatsthatbug.com has received hundreds of letters and some interesting images asking us about these insects. Scroll down to have a look at some of them.
Letter 1 – Paddle Caterpillar
I don’t need a reply, because I have figured out this is a Paddle Caterpillar. Just thought I would share a few pics of this cutie. We found him on a rose bush in our yard in Cadyville NY (northeastern NY).
Jody & Griffin Parks
The first time we received a photo of a Paddle Caterpillar, Acronicta funeralis, we had a difficult time identifying it. Though it is quite distinctive, at the time, there were not many photographs posted online. Thanks for adding to our database.
Letter 2 – Paddle Caterpillar
What’s the name of this caterpillar
A friend of mine is a Butterfly collector who has approximately every butterfly that we can find here in Quebec. He came upon this caterpillar yesterday, and is unable to identify it, even after looking it up in his books. Have you an idea what this mysterious Canadian(?) Caterpillar can be?
The descriptive name for this caterpillar is Paddle Caterpillar, and it is the larva of the Funerary Dagger Moth, Acronicta funeralis.
Letter 3 – Paddle Caterpillar
My mother found this handsome catapillar while picking huckleberries in North Idaho. There is a huckleberry in the photo for scale. We would love to know what it is!
We tried unsuccessfully to identify this awesome caterpillar and Eric Eaton couldn’t help us either. Then today, 21 September, we received the following email from him: “Remember that weird caterpillar with the spatulate tentacles coming out of it? I think I have an ID. I was looking through Portfolio, the software that we are storing our field guide images on, and came up with this: Acronicta funeralis. It is a Noctuidae moth larva known as the Paddle Caterpillar, appropriately enough:-) Eric ” Then we did additional web searching and found it on a new website, at least for us, The USGS site Caterpillars of the Pacific Northwest Forests and Woodlands.
Letter 4 – Paddle Caterpillar
Hi! I just love this site! My husband and I finally ID’d this beautiful caterpillar from your site. I have a question though. Is this caterpillar only supposed to be specific to the Northwest? We live in central Missouri in the country and found this guy on a small type of deciduous tree. They are very rare, from what I read, but how is it that he would be here in Missouri? Thanks!
We are positively thrilled to get your image of the Paddle Caterpillar, Acronicta funeralis, also known as the Funerary Dagger Moth. BugGuide lists reports from Georgia, Iowa, Illinois, New Hampshire, Virginia, and Washington. This indicates that it ranges far wider than just the Pacific Northwest. Thanks again for sending in such a great image, especially since there is such a dearth of images of the Paddle Caterpillar on the web.
Letter 5 – Paddle Caterpillar
Subject: Black and yellow caterpillar
Location: London, Ontario Canada
August 31, 2016 1:43 pm
I’m not sure that I’ve seen one of these around here before. Could you please be so kind as to ID it if possible?
Commonly called the Paddle Caterpillar, this is the larva of a Funerary Dagger Moth which you can verify by comparing your image to this BugGuide image. According to BugGuide: “larvae feed on leaves of alder, apple, birch, blueberry/huckleberry (Vaccinium spp.), cottonwood, dogwood, elm, hazel, hickory, maple, oak, willow.”
Letter 6 – Paddle Caterpillar
Subject: Paddle caterpillar
Location: Detroit, Oregon
August 10, 2017 9:39 pm
Hi bugman! My family and I went out for a walk and found this little guy hanging out on a leaf. We though you might like to have this photo!
Signature: Kristina Schafer
First we need to commend you on your correct identification of a Paddle Caterpillar, Acronicta funeralis. The first time we received an image of a Paddle Caterpillar many years ago, we tried unsuccessfully to identify it. It is quite a distinctive looking species, and not easily confused with any other caterpillar. Your image is especially beautiful.
Letter 7 – Paddle Caterpillar
Subject: Beautiful caterpillar
Geographic location of the bug: Just 10 miles west of Portland, OR
Time: 01:33 AM EDT
Your letter to the bugman: I found this beautiful little guy munching on the leaf of my blueberry bush. Today is July 8th, the berries are just beginning to turn ripe.
How you want your letter signed: Jan in Portland OR
We have a nearly identical image in our archives, also from Oregon, of a Paddle Caterpillar, Acronicta funeralis.
Letter 8 – Paddle Caterpillar
Subject: Caterpillar we’ve never seen
Geographic location of the bug: Belfast, Maine
Time: 12:26 PM EDT
Your letter to the bugman: We saw this caterpillar this morning in our yard. We simply can’t find any one similar in trying to identify what it is.
How you want your letter signed: Katie
The Paddle Caterpillar, Acronicta funeralis, is surely a distinctive species. According to BugGuide: “larvae feed on leaves of alder, apple, birch, blueberry/huckleberry (Vaccinium spp.), cottonwood, dogwood, elm, hazel, hickory, maple, oak, willow.”
Letter 9 – Paddle Caterpillar from Canada
Subject: Caterpillar ID Request
Geographic location of the bug: Truro, Nova Scotia
Time: 11:22 PM EDT
Found on small plant ~2in from the ground in a deciduous forest, Sept 2, 2017 in Central Nova Scotia.
About 3cm long
closest I’ve found is willow sawfly larvae.
How you want your letter signed: Thanks! Rachel
The Paddle Caterpillar, Acronicta funeralis, is the larva of the Funerary Dagger Moth. It is one of the more distinctive looking North American caterpillars, however, you probably had trouble locating an identification because online images are not especially numerous. According to BugGuide: “larvae feed on leaves of alder, apple, birch, blueberry/huckleberry (Vaccinium spp.), cottonwood, dogwood, elm, hazel, hickory, maple, oak, willow.”
Letter 10 – Paddle Caterpillar early instars
HELP, we’re losing sleep!!
okay – I don’t mean to hound you talented and brilliant bug identifiers, BUT… This caterpillar is driving us crazy. I sent a picture to you (image 1) yesterday, and after 12 or so hours of total inactivity this little friend crept out of his skin and turned into someone else (image 2). Now, still inactive. My 6 year old son and I have scoured your site and others to identify this little beast, but to no avail. Oh please, help us. I know our guy is not exciting, but he is nowhere on your site. So at least he’s original! We are in Kansas, and he was found on a cherry tree eating like a maniac. I’ll send both pics. 24 hours apart. THANK YOU.
Lee and Page in Prairie Village, KS
Hi Lee and Page,
These are early instars of a Paddle Caterpillar, Acronicta funeralis, also knows as the Funerary Dagger Moth. BugGuide has some nice photo documentation of the changes the caterpillar goes through. By the time the caterpillar grows to its fifth and final instar, it is not recognizeable as the bird poop caterpillar you first photographed. We do have at least one image of a final instar caterpillar somewhere in our archives, but your photos are filling in some nice blanks in the metamorphosis. We hope you will continue to send us photos as the caterpillar changes. Put Paddle Caterpillar in the subject line if you send additional images.