Spotted Oleander Caterpillar: Essential Facts and Tips

The spotted oleander caterpillar is a fascinating creature with striking features that may pique your curiosity. Originating from the Caribbean, it has recently made its way to the United States, with sightings primarily in Florida and along the southeastern coast 1.

In this article, you’ll discover all you need to know about the spotted oleander caterpillar, from its life cycle to the signature orange and black appearance 1. You’ll also learn how these caterpillars interact with their primary host plant, the oleander, and how their presence might affect your garden 2. Happy learning!

The Spotted Oleander Caterpillar: An Overview

The spotted oleander caterpillar is a unique member of the Lepidoptera order and belongs to the Erebidae family, specifically classified as an arctiine species. You can find them mostly feeding on oleander plants in Florida, though they’re less common and less destructive than the Syntomeida epilais, or oleander caterpillar.

In appearance, the spotted oleander caterpillar is easily recognizable due to its distinctive features:

  • Bright orange color
  • Black spots covering its body
  • Covered in tufts of black hairs

Unlike the gregarious oleander caterpillar, the spotted oleander caterpillar prefers to pupate alone. Here’s a comparison table to help you visualize the differences between the two species:

Spotted Oleander Caterpillar Oleander Caterpillar
Species Empyreuma affinis Rothschild Syntomeida epilais Walker
Habitat Florida Florida and Southern Georgia
Commonness Less common More common
Destructiveness Less destructive More destructive
Pupation Behavior Alone In large aggregations

Despite their differences, both caterpillar species feed exclusively on oleander plants. However, the spotted oleander caterpillar is rarely a major concern due to its rarity and less destructive nature compared to the oleander caterpillar. While a severe infestation is possible, it’s quite uncommon and not a significant threat to the health of oleander plants.

In summary, the spotted oleander caterpillar is an interesting, yet less harmful relative of the well-known oleander caterpillar. With its distinct characteristics and minimal impact on oleander plants, they add diversity to the Lepidoptera family and the ecosystems they inhabit in Florida.

Physical Description

Adult Stage

The adult spotted oleander caterpillar, also known as the Uncle Sam moth or polka-dot wasp moth, has a rather striking appearance. Its wings are adorned with iridescent blue/green hues and silver-colored spots. The abdomen of this moth is reddish, with small white dots and metallic blue highlights. Furthermore, their antennae have orange tips, giving them a unique and colorful look1.

Larval Stage

Now let’s talk about the larval stage of the spotted oleander caterpillar. They are easily recognizable due to their bright orange color2. In contrast to the adult moth, the caterpillars are covered with reddish-brown hairs that stick out in tufts. These hairs play an essential role in protecting them from predators, as they can be irritating to potential threats3.

To sum up the physical description of spotted oleander caterpillars:

  • Adult moth stage: Iridescent blue/green wings with silver-colored spots, reddish abdomen, white dots, metallic blue highlights, and orange-tipped antennae.
  • Larval stage: Bright orange color with reddish-brown hairs in tufts.

These unique characteristics make the spotted oleander caterpillar an easily identifiable species at both stages of its life cycle.

Habitat and Distribution

The Spotted Oleander Caterpillar is mainly found in the southern regions of Florida, particularly near the Gulf and Atlantic coasts. This insect originally came from the Caribbean region and first arrived in the United States in 1978.

You can find these caterpillars living exclusively on oleander plants, where they feed on the leaves. Oleander plants are popular ornamentals that thrive in subtropical climates.

  • Presence: Both coasts of Florida
  • Origin: Caribbean region
  • Host plant: Oleander

Their distribution has gradually expanded from their initial population base in the Keys and south Florida. The spotted oleander caterpillars are not as common as their similar counterpart, the oleander caterpillar, which causes more damage to oleander plants in the state.

Keep in mind that this caterpillar’s growth has been relatively slow compared to other invasive species. So, you may not find them outside of their pristine habitat in Florida and the Caribbean. Nonetheless, these fascinating creatures continue to adorn the oleander plants they inhabit.

Life Cycle and Development

In this section, we will explore the different stages of the spotted oleander caterpillar’s life cycle and development, specifically focusing on the egg stage, larval stage, pupation stage, and adult stage.

Egg Stage

The female spotted oleander caterpillar moth lays her eggs in a group on the host plant, usually an oleander. The eggs are small and round, and it takes a few days for them to hatch.

Larval Stage

After hatching, the larvae go through six instars, or developmental stages, before entering the pupation stage. During the larval stage, they feed on the host plant, consuming its leaves. As the larvae grow and develop, their appearance changes, but they typically have a bright appearance with distinctive markings.

Some key features of the larvae include:

  • Bright coloration
  • Distinctive markings
  • Feeding on oleander leaves

Pupation Stage

Once the spotted oleander caterpillar reaches the end of the larval stage, it enters the pupation stage. During this stage, the caterpillar forms a cocoon and later emerges as an adult moth. This period in their life cycle is crucial for their metamorphosis into an adult.

Adult Stage

The adult spotted oleander caterpillar moth has an iridescent blue/green coloration with a reddish abdomen and small white dots. It is active during the daytime, flying from flower to flower for nectar. The adult moths mate and then lay eggs to start the next generation of spotted oleander caterpillars.

Here is a comparison table of the four stages:

Stage Characteristics
Egg Stage Small, round, laid in groups on host plant (oleander)
Larval Stage Six instars, bright coloration, feed on oleander leaves
Pupation Stage Formation of cocoon for metamorphosis
Adult Stage Iridescent blue/green with reddish abdomen, white dots

In conclusion, it’s important for you to understand each stage in the life cycle of the spotted oleander caterpillar, as it will help you better appreciate this fascinating creature and its development.

Diet and Feeding Behavior

The Spotted Oleander Caterpillar primarily feeds on the leaves of its host plant, the oleander. Oleanders are popular ornamental plantings often used for landscaping, which means these caterpillars can be found in a variety of environments.

As they consume the leaves, they extract the sap for nourishment. They can cause considerable defoliation, especially in southern regions of Florida. Luckily, the oleander plant is hardy enough to recover from such damage. Remember that Spotted Oleander Caterpillars are not the only pests to worry about on oleanders; other caterpillars, like the Oleander Caterpillar, can also cause defoliation.

Some key points about the Spotted Oleander Caterpillar diet and feeding behavior:

  • Feeds on oleander leaves
  • Extracts sap for nourishment
  • Can cause considerable defoliation

Keep an eye on your oleander plants and manage the caterpillar population to maintain the health and appearance of your landscaping.

Predators and Defensive Mechanisms

You might be curious about the predators and defensive mechanisms of the spotted oleander caterpillar. These caterpillars are often targeted by predators, such as:

  • Wasps
  • Parasitoids
  • Fire ants
  • Stink bugs

To protect themselves, these caterpillars employ several defensive mechanisms. For example, their bright colors can signal to predators that they are toxic or poisonous. In fact, the spotted oleander caterpillars are known to be toxic due to the consumption of oleander leaves.

Now you know that the spotted oleander caterpillars have to face various predators and use specific defense strategies to survive. Understanding their natural enemies and defense mechanisms provides essential insights into maintaining a healthy balance in their ecosystem.

The Spotted Oleander Caterpillar’s Impact on Plants

Impact on Oleander Plants

Spotted oleander caterpillar, scientifically known as Empyreuma pugione, is one of the few caterpillar species that feed on oleander plants in Florida. Although it’s less common and destructive than the oleander caterpillar, it can still cause some damage to your plants.

When infestations occur, these caterpillars usually feed on tender new leaves and flowers. As a result, you may notice defoliation on your oleander plants. It is important to monitor your plants regularly and take necessary preventive measures to maintain their health and aesthetics.

Management and Control Methods

To manage and control the Spotted Oleander Caterpillar, it’s important to explore different options. Here are a few methods that can help you in your quest to protect your garden.

Biological control is an eco-friendly approach. Introducing beneficial insects to your garden, such as parasitic wasps or green lacewings, helps keep the caterpillar population in check. These natural predators control populations without harming plants.

Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt), a popular insecticide, effectively targets caterpillars. When ingested, it disrupts their digestion, leading to their demise. As a selective option, it generally doesn’t harm beneficial insects.

Using a soapy water solution can be another safe and effective method. Spray this mixture onto infested plants, focusing on the caterpillars directly. The soapy solution suffocates them, making it harder for them to breathe.

Sometimes, manual removal of caterpillars can be surprisingly effective. Simply pick them off plants and dispose of them far away from your garden or drop them into soapy water. Monitor your plants regularly to catch any new infestations.

Pesticides should be a last resort due to their potential harm to the environment and beneficial insects. Choose a selective pesticide targeting caterpillars, and follow the label instructions carefully.

Remember, each option has its pros and cons. Balanced management using a combination of these methods can be the key to controlling Spotted Oleander Caterpillars in your garden.

Interesting Facts

The Spotted Oleander Caterpillar, scientifically known as Empyreuma pugione, belongs to the Arctiinae subfamily which also includes the well-known Tiger Moths. This species was originally named by Linnaeus in 1767. Here are some interesting facts about this caterpillar.

This caterpillar is often confused with the Oleander Caterpillar, Syntomeida epilais Walker. In fact, they both feed on Oleander plants, but their appearances are different. Here’s a comparison of the two caterpillars:

Feature Spotted Oleander Caterpillar Oleander Caterpillar
Color Black with white spots Bright orange
Hair Short black hair Long black hair with tufts
Damaging to Oleander Less destructive More destructive

The adult stage of the Oleander caterpillar is known as the Polka-dot Wasp Moth due to its vibrant blue/green color, reddish abdomen, and small white dots. In contrast, the adult form of the Spotted Oleander Caterpillar is not a moth. You can refer to the Featured Creatures article for more information on these species.

Both caterpillars share similarities in their feeding habits:

  • They eat the leaves of Oleander plants
  • Their populations may increase during warmer months

If you want to differentiate between the Spotted Oleander Caterpillar and the Oleander Caterpillar, just keep these interesting facts and characteristics in mind. Remember to always handle them with care, as some people may be sensitive to their hairs.

Research and Resources

As you take a closer look at the spotted oleander caterpillar, know that there are plenty of resources available to help you learn more. Let’s dive into some key facts and findings about this fascinating insect.

You may be most familiar with the spotted oleander caterpillar, Syntomeida epilais Walker, as a bright orange creature covered in tufts of long black hairs. They are commonly found on oleanders in Florida and southern Georgia, where they can be responsible for significant defoliation in some areas1.

Here are some essential characteristics of the spotted oleander caterpillar in a neat list:

  • Bright orange with tufts of long black hairs
  • Commonly found in Florida and southern Georgia
  • Feeds on leaves of oleander plants
  • Can cause considerable defoliation in some areas

While the caterpillar is often considered a pest, did you know that the adult stage of Syntomeida epilais Walker is visually striking? Known as the polka-dot wasp moth, this small, iridescent blue/green creature boasts a reddish abdomen adorned with small white dots. You might find adult polka-dot wasp moths flying slowly from flower to flower in the daytime2.

The spotted oleander caterpillar’s impact on oleander plants can be alarming, especially when they feed in groups and cause significant defoliation. However, it’s important to remember that even total defoliation will not kill the oleander plant3.

By exploring these research findings and resources, you can continue your journey in understanding the spotted oleander caterpillar. Good luck with your research, and remember to always rely on accurate and credible sources.

Footnotes

  1. https://blogs.ifas.ufl.edu/monroeco/2009/06/11/oleander-caterpillar/ 2

  2. https://entnemdept.ufl.edu/creatures/orn/oleander_caterpillar.htm 2

  3. https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/publication/IN135 2

Reader Emails

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 – Oleander Caterpillar

 

Bright Orange Crawly
So can you identify this guy from Hudson, Florida. There are a few around my house.
P.W. Fenton
Hudson, Florida

Hi P.W.,
The Oleander Caterpillar is the larval form of the Polka-Dot Wasp Moth, Syntomeida epilais.

Letter 2 – Spotted Oleander Caterpillar Moth

 

Wasp Mimic Moth from BVI
January 18, 2010
This moth was photographed in the early evening, 6:20 local time on Dec. 22 with a 400 mm telephoto lens.
Donald Gudehus
Necker Island, British Virgin Islands

Spotted Oleander Caterpillar Moth

Hi Donald,
This Spotted Oleander Caterpillar Moth, Empyreuma affinis, is a common Caribbean species that was recently introduced to Florida.

Letter 3 – Possibly Oleander Moth Cocoon

 

Subject: Fuzzy cocoon? … fuzzy thing attatched to column in ft Myers beach fl
Location: ft Myers beach Florida
January 30, 2013 9:49 pm
Dear Bugman,
…. I also would like it if you could identify this cocoon, there were tons all over colums where I am staying, through the ”fur” I could see some shiny brown, this particular one was about an inch (maybe a little smaller since my sense of measurement lacks). Thank you!
Signature: Moth Ninja

Oleander Moth Cocoon

Hi again Moth Ninja,
Are there oleander plants where you are staying?  They are quite common in Florida.  We believe this is the cocoon of an Oleander Moth or Polka Dot Wasp Moth,
Syntomeida epilais, and you can compare your photo to this image on BugGuide.

Dear Bugman, thank you for the quick response! I’m not too sure if there are any oleander plants around, but I’m sure your identification is correct seeing as I’ve seen that moth around! I wish I could stay to watch the cocoon hatch but I leave Florida tomorrow. I’m a huge fan of your site and have been for years. It’s helped me to realize house centipedes are actually beneficial in my house! And I am no longer afraid of a lot of little friends! Thank you again for the identification, I will keep my eyes peeled for anymore interesting buggies!

We are so happy to hear you are tolerant of House Centipedes.

Letter 4 – Spotted Oleander Caterpillar Moth from the Caribbean

 

Please identify this winged creature
November 1, 2009
Found this bug outside my door, while in med school in St,Maarten
Dmitry
St.Maarten, Carribean

Spotted Oleander Caterpillar Moth
Spotted Oleander Caterpillar Moth

Hi Dmitry,
This is a Spotted Oleander Caterpillar Moth, Empyreuma affinis.  It is native to the Caribbean and has been introduced to Florida.

Letter 5 – Oleander Hawk Moth

 

Oleander Hawk Moth
This moth was photographed in Oklahoma in August 2008.  From what I have read on your site, this is primarily a Mediterranean moth, except it has been found in Hawaii.  Is it unusual to be found in the center of the United States?
DANIEL B. BAUMANN, P.E.

Hi DANIEL,
While an Oleander Hawkmoth would be quite unusual in Oklahoma, your own Pandorus Sphinx, Eumorpha pandorus, is not so strange. You can read up on them on Bill Oehlke’s wonderful website.

Letter 6 – Spotted Oleander Caterpillar from Dominican Republic

 

Subject: Magnificent looking exotic lava
Location: Plaza Bavaro, Punta Cana, Dominican republic
March 23, 2016 10:09 am
Hey! We went past this beautiful creature on our way to our hotel, and since its so beautiful we wanted to know what it evolves to some day. I hope you have the time, thank you!
Signature: Victor

Spotted Oleander Caterpillar
Spotted Oleander Caterpillar

Dear Victor,
This little beauty is a Spotted Oleander Caterpillar,
Empyreuma pugione, a species recently introduced to south Florida that we identified on BugGuide.  According to BugGuide:  “The spotted oleander caterpillar is a recent immigrant to the US from the Caribbean, first recorded in Florida in Boca Raton, Palm Beach County, in February 1978.”  The adult Spotted Oleander Caterpillar Moth is an effective wasp mimic.

Thanks a lot! What a wonderful service you guys/girls have!

Letter 7 – Spotted Oleander Moth Caterpillar

 

Wasp Moth?
Location:  Tampa, FL
October 18, 2010 3:55 pm
This little dude was hanging out on the door frame to my apartment, and after much searching can’t find anything he resembles except a polka dot wasp moth, but he doesn’t seem to have the right coloring or markings.
It is mid-October in West Central Florida near Tampa, and while I tried to get as good a picture as possible, the light isn’t amazing. His wings were a dark orange-red, and his body a dark blue or purple. His body also had a powdery look to it, instead of shiny.
Any ideas?
Signature:  HG

Spotted Oleander Caterpillar Moth

Dear HG,
Even though we lightened the levels on your photograph, the image does not do justice to the lovely red wings of the Spotted Oleander Caterpillar Moth,
Empyreuma affinis, which can be viewed in our archives as well as on BugGuide.  You are correct in your comparison to another wasp mimic Tiger Moth, the Polkadot Wasp Moth

Letter 8 – Newly Emerged Oleander Hawkmoth

 

Subject:  Need to know What Bug is this?
Location: Pune, Maharashtra, India
Aug 1 2015
Hi,
We got this bug clicked at Pune city, Maharashtra, India. Not sure what species and name of this.
I guess this is some kind of Moth.
Could you please provide the details please.

Oleander Hawkmoth
Oleander Hawkmoth

This is a newly metamorphosed Oleander Hawkmoth and its wings have not yet expanded.

Letter 9 – Mating Spotted Oleander Caterpillar Moths

 

Subject:  Help needed to ID orange winged flying critter
Geographic location of the bug:  Atlantic Beach FL
Date: 07/30/2019
Time: 08:51 AM EDT
Your letter to the bugman:  My husband spotted this amorous couple on his early morning beach walk.Thanks to you who admire and respect all God’s creatures, great and small!
How you want your letter signed:  Lyvisky, Florida

Mating Spotted Oleander Caterpillar Moths

Dear Lyvisky, Florida,
These are mating Spotted Oleander Caterpillar Moths,
Empyreuma affinis, and they are harmless Tiger Moths that benefit from protective mimicry as they are easily mistaken for stinging wasps by predators.

Thank you, Daniel!! They do indeed resemble wasps. I’m always happy to meet new species.

Letter 10 – Oleander Caterpillar

 

caterpillar I.D.
The pics should be reversed because I see these guys going up the stucco to their “housing” after they’ve snacked. What are they? I’m in the central east coast of Florida. My Oleanders don’t look so hot now….
Thanks in advance!!
Colleen

Hi Colleen,
You have Oleander Caterpillars, and they have formed Cocoons. The next phase of the metamorphosis is the emergance of the lovely Polka-Dot Wasp Moth, Syntomeida epilias. We have photos of the adult on our homepage now.

Letter 11 – Oleander Caterpillar

 

Caterpillars of Syntomeida epilais Walker, 1854
Dear Daniel and Lisa Anne,
I think so far you have only one (not very beautiful) image of the Oleander caterpillar, the young of the Polkadot Wasp Moth, Syntomeida epilais Walker, 1854, so I thought you might possibly like some prettier shots. I found them in May of 2006, chewing on an Oleander bush at 1,000 feet, on the island of Nevis, Leeward Islands, West Indies. When he saw these caterpillars, my spouse was surprised and said that they looked sort of like a toothbrush! (A Halloween toothbrush maybe?)
Best to you,
Susan J. Hewitt

Hi Susan,
Your submission is so timely, since we just posted a letter with a photo of the adult Polka-Dot Wasp Moth.

Letter 12 – Oleander Caterpillar

 

Please Please identify these for me!
Hello,
These buggers have been devouring my pretty vine (I think it’s an Allamana vine) and I can’t seem to find it in any book. I’d like to get them off my vine as they completely eat it. I need to identify them first though so I know how to kindly get rid of them. I’d like to know if they are moths, bugs or butterfly, so please let me know. Thanks for your help!
Jennifer

Hi Jennifer,
At first your letter had us puzzled as this is an Oleander Caterpillar and we thought it fed solely on Oleander. We quickly realized this must be an error as the moth is native and oleander is not. The Oleander Caterpillar will metamorphose into the lovely Polkadot Wasp Moth, Syntomeida epilais. BugGuide informed us that the caterpillar also feeds on Devil’s Potato or Rubbervine, Echites umbellata, and that is a native vine in the family Apocynaceae. When oleander was introduced, the moth quickly adapted to this new food source.

Letter 13 – Oleander Caterpillar

 

Subject: Weird caterpillar
Location: Delray Beach, FL
June 6, 2017 6:32 am
I have a video of an odd caterpillar we saw on a vacation last week, and am curious what it is!
The motion is very compelling so I have included both a video and a still photo.
https://goo.gl/photos/ZnzpsfFHHZ7VF78g8
Signature: Abbe

Oleander Caterpillar

Dear Abbe,
This is an Oleander Caterpillar.  It will eventually become a Polka Dot Wasp Moth.  We are post-dating your submission to go live to our site later in the month when our editorial staff is away on holiday.

Thanks! The moth is pretty cool looking too.
Abbe

Letter 14 – Oleander Caterpillar

 

Subject:  Caterpillar
Geographic location of the bug:  Jensen Beach, FL 34957
Date: 06/27/2021
Time: 09:50 AM EDT
Your letter to the bugman:  These suddenly appeared on my ornamental trees. Are they harmful?
How you want your letter signed:  Kathraine

Oleander Caterpillars

Dear Kathraine,
We verified the identity of your Caterpillar as
Empyreuma pugione on BugGuide, and the adult is the Spotted Oleander Caterpillar Moth, and since we do not want to call this the caterpillar of the Spotted Oleander Caterpillar Moth, we are going to call it the Spotted Oleander Caterpillar.  We will let you decide if they are harmful.

Oleander Caterpillar

Thank you so much! I am just hoping that the birds have a good lunch and leave it at that.
I just did some more reading. They’re poisonous to birds due to eating the oleander. I might try to pick some of them off, but my trees should live alright in spite of the caterpillars’ appetite.

Hi again Kathraine,
The caterpillars feed on the leaves and if the oleander is otherwise healthy, it will regrow leaves.  Caterpillars do not generally kill the plants upon which they feed.

Letter 15 – Oleander Caterpillar: Do Not Eat Them until there is a detailed study of toxicity

 

they are everywhere!
Hi! We just moved into this house and we have these orange catepillars, with black tufts of hair crawling everywhere on our house. We have searched and cannot figure out what type they are, what they eat, etc… Their cocoons are black and thin because you can see straight through them. We believe that they turn into a black moth with white spots, with an orange butt. Are these poisonous? Please what can you tell us about them. They already had one set of caterpillars that cocooned and now we have a second set. Thank you,
Shereen

Hi Shereen,
This is an Oleander Caterpillar, Syntomeida epilais, which, as you know, matures into the Polka Dot Wasp Moth. They are probably feeding on your oleander plants, a flowering shrub that might be more likely to harm your children than these caterpillars are. Oleander contains Neriin, Oleondroside and Oleandrin and ingestion of leaves or stems of oleander can be deadly. Reportedly, even a single leaf might cause death. While oleander is a deadly poison for mammals, the Oleander Caterpillars are not affected. Quite possibly they store the poisons in their bodies and this might protect them. We do not recommend eating the caterpillars nor the adult moths.

Letter 16 – Oleander Caterpillars in Belize

 

Subject: caterpillar on allamanda vine
Location: Amberbris Caye, Belize Central America
September 15, 2013 4:05 pm
We seem to have an bunch of these caterpillars munching on our allamanda vine, they are eating the leaves and the yellow blooms. They are just a tad longer than an inch in length. Can you ID them please? Thank you!
Signature: Tamara Sniffin

Oleander Caterpillar
Oleander Caterpillar

Dear Tamara,
This is an Oleander Caterpillar,
Syntomeida epilais, and it will eventually metamorphose into a Polka-Dot Wasp Moth.  We were not familar with the Allamanda Vine, but research on the Seminole County Florida Leisure Services website indicates it is commonly called the Buttercup Flower and that it is in the Dogbane family with Oleander, indicating it most likely has milky sap.

Oleander Caterpillars
Oleander Caterpillars

Yes it certainly does have a milky sap. Thank you VERY much for your response. Regards, Tamara

Letter 17 – Oleander Moth

 

Polka Dot Wasp Moth?
I took this picture this morning 1-18-08 in my yard in Gainesville, FL. When I got to your page the bug of the month, the Polka Dot Wasp Moth, looked quite similar. Is it the same? btw…LOVE the site!!!!
Shonna

Hi Shonna,
You are absolutely correct. The Polka-Dot Wasp Moth, Syntomeida epilais, is also called the Oleader Moth. Choosing our Bug of the Month is always a dicey operation. We were beginning to doubt that we had made the right choice this month since your letter is the first identification request/confirmation we have received.

Letter 18 – Oleander Moth Caterpillar

 

Caterpillar Calamity!!!
I am having trouble with voracious caterpillars on my Mandevilla plants in my back yard in Orlando, Fl Could you possibly identify them for me and advise what I can do to discourage them from consuming my plants??? Many thanks
Paul Bond

Hi Paul,
First we are impressed by the long depth of field in your photograph and love the way the single caterpillar in the foreground appears to dwarf its coevals in the background. These are Oleander Moth Caterpillars, Syntomeida epilais. The adults are also known as Polka Dot Wasp Moths. We normally get reports of caterpillars feeding on oleander, but we found an oleander website that mentions that oleander and mandevilla are both in the Dogbane family. Since we frown on pesticides in the garden, we would recommend hand picking the caterpillars.

Perspective Correction Update: (07/09/2007) Note on the Oleander caterpillars
Hi Daniel
About the image that is with “Oleander Moth Caterpillar (07/07/2007) Caterpillar Calamity!!!” Wanted to say that I think what this image shows is one leaf, which has on it two tiny, early instar (first instar maybe?) caterpillars, as well as one big hulking late instar individual. I mean they are individuals of different ages, from two different batches of eggs. Best,
Susan

Hi Susan,
Closer inspection shows you are correct and all caterpillars are on the same leaf. We had really been looking forward to the opportunity of using one of our favorite words correctly in a sentence.

Letter 19 – Spotted Oleander Caterpillar

 

Subject: orange puffy bug
Location: Dominican Republic
October 7, 2014 1:23 pm
Hi there,
just want to know which butterfly comes out from this bug
Signature: dunno

Spotted Oleander Caterpillar
Spotted Oleander Caterpillar

Dear dunno,
This is a Spotted Oleander Caterpillar,
Empyreuma pugione, and it will eventually metamorphose into a diurnal moth that mimics a wasp, not a butterfly.  See BugGuide for a comparison image.

Letter 20 – Spotted Oleander Caterpillar Moth

 


Hi,
Can you tell me what this is? I live in Lake Worth, Florida. Thanks,
Cherrie

Hi Cherrie,
This is a Spotted Oleander Caterpillar Moth, Empyreuma affinis. They are wasp mimics.

Letter 21 – Spotted Oleander Caterpillar Moth

 

Florida bug
Hi,
I spotted this bug outside my front door in west central Florida. It was a calm sort, remained there for hours until I finally got around to taking its picture. I have never seen anything like it. I would appreciate it if you could tell me/us what it is.
BTW what a great site. Those polka-dotted wasp moths have been scaring me for years, but no more. Thanks
Paul

Hi Paul,
This is another of the Wasp Mimic Arctiid Moths, the Spotted Oleander Caterpillar Moth, Empyreuma affinis. We didn’t recognize the species, but quickly located it on BugGuide.

Letter 22 – Spotted Oleander Caterpillar Moth

 

Mimic Wasp???
I live in Satellite Beach Florida and saw this on my screen and was hoping you could tell me what it is. I think it’s some kind of mimic wasp but I’m not sure. Love your site.
Jeff

Hi Jeff,
You are correct. The Spotted Oleander Caterpillar Moth, Empyreuma affinis, is a wasp mimic.

Letter 23 – Spotted Oleander Caterpillar Moth

 

Help with ID
Hi,
This zoomed across my yard and landed on a tomato leaf. The red wings were striking. Haven’t been able to ID it though. Thanks for the help.
tim williford
Melbourne, FL

Hi Tim,
Though it looks wasplike, this is a Spotter Oleander Caterpillar Moth, Empyreuma affinis.

Letter 24 – Spotted Oleander Caterpillar Moth

 

Flying insect that just hatched from a cocoon
Location: Florida
April 3, 2011 4:12 pm
Hi Bugman,
I just discovered an insect hatched from a cocoon on my porch. Unfortunately, it’s a screened porch so I am unsure how it got in in the first place and it’s now trapped in there as there is no door to leave (second floor porch.) So, I’m anxious to know what it is, to know if it’s safe to remove it by moving it myself. The bug is located in Florida, the season is spring. It’s about an inch and a half long. I have included a photo of the insect and it’s cocoon. Thanks for reading!
Signature: Mary

Spotted Oleander Caterpillar Moth

Hi Mary,
You probably have an oleander plant growing near your porch because this wasp mimic is a Spotted Oleander Caterpillar Moth,
Empyreuma affinis, a species believed to have been introduced to Florida from the Caribbean region.  Its caterpillar, like many caterpillars, travels from the food plant when searching for a place to pupate.  There is a comprehensive description of the Spotted Oleander Caterpillar Moth on the University of Florida Featured Creatures section.

Letter 25 – Spotted Oleander Caterpillar Moth

 

Any Idea
Location: Miami, FL
February 19, 2012 2:31 pm
Ran into this butterfly looking thing. Anyone knows what it is?
Signature: Ruben C.

Spotted Oleander Caterpillar Moth

Dear Ruben,
This wasp mimicking Tiger Moth is
Empyreuma affinis, commonly called the Spotted Oleander Caterpillar Moth, and according to BugGuide, it is a Caribbean species that was introduced to Florida.

Letter 26 – Spotted Oleander Caterpillar Moth

 

Unidentified moth
Location: Central Florida
March 15, 2012 3:47 pm
This little guy was hanging out neat a luna moth (picture included). He is only an inch and a half long or so, and has bright red wings and a black body with white polka dots. He’s not in my field guide, so I’m hoping you can help. I’m building up a collection of local wildlife photography.
Signature: Brian S.

Spotted Oleander Moth

Dear Brian,
Your unidentified moth is a Spotted Oleander Moth,
Empyreuma affinis, and you can find many photos in our archive as well as on BugGuide.  There is also an extensive profile on Featured Creatures.

Letter 27 – Spotted Oleander Caterpillar Moth

 

Subject: Identification
Location: Florida Keys USA
February 19, 2013 6:10 pm
I found this small fly? at my home in the Florida Keys, USA recently – February 2013.
I cannot determine what it is.
Thank you.
Signature: Curious in Florida

Spotted Oleander Caterpillar Moth

Dear Curious in Florida,
This is a moth, not a fly.  It is a Spotted Oleander Caterpillar Moth,
Empyreuma affinis, and according to BugGuide, it is:  “Apparently an introduced species from the Carribean.”

Letter 28 – Spotted Oleander Caterpillar Moth

 

Subject: Tarantula wasp in Miami?
Location: Miami Beach FL
March 13, 2014 11:55 am
Hey Bugman! I snapped this while walking down the street in South Beach (Miami, FL) this past January. It seems to match descriptions of tarantula wasps… although it just seems odd to me. Hope you can shed some light! Sorry about the poor res…
Signature: Jet Setter

Spotted Oleander Caterpillar Moth
Spotted Oleander Caterpillar Moth

Dear Jet Setter,
Like the Blue-Green Wasp Mimic you submitted, this Spotted Oleander Caterpillar Moth,
Empyreuma pugione, is a wasp mimic in the Tiger Moth tribe Arctiini.  Tarantula Hawks often have black bodies with orange wings, and the aposematic or warning coloration alerts predators to the threat of bothering them, because the sting of a Tarantula Hawk is reported to be quite painful.  The docile and harmless moth benefits from the mimicry.  According to BugGuide:  “The spotted oleander caterpillar is a recent immigrant to the US from the Caribbean, first recorded in Florida in Boca Raton, Palm Beach County, in February 1978.”  Since the Spotted Oleander Caterpillars feed on toxic oleander, the aposematic coloration might also be a warning not to eat this species as the toxins may be retained in the bodies of the moths.

Letter 29 – Spotted Oleander Caterpillar Moth

 

Subject: Wasp or moth?
Location: Northeast Florida (Jacksonville Beach)
June 25, 2014 6:36 am
I had six of these on my sunflowers yesterday around dusk. I live in northeast florida. They look sort of like polka dot wasp moths but I don’t see the signature red tail. Any ideas?
Signature: Melissa

Spotted Oleander Caterpillar Moth
Spotted Oleander Caterpillar Moth

Dear Melissa,
The Spotted Oleander Caterpillar Moth,
Empyreuma pugione, and the Polka Dot Wasp Moth are classified in the same subtribe, and both are very effective wasp mimics.

Letter 30 – Spotted Oleander Caterpillar Moth

 

Subject: What’s that ?
Location: Seen in Tampa, FL 9/28/2014 in town
September 28, 2014 4:02 pm
Hi bugman
What’s the bug on this picture ?
Thanks
Signature: Fred

Spotted Oleander Caterpillar Moth
Spotted Oleander Caterpillar Moth

Dear Fred,
The Spotted Oleander Caterpillar Moth,
Empyreuma pugione, is one of the Tiger Moths that benefit from mimicry because they look like stinging Wasps.  This black bodied, orange winged beauty most closely resembles Spider Wasps, especially the Tarantula Hawks.  According to BugGuide:  “The spotted oleander caterpillar is a recent immigrant to the US from the Caribbean, first recorded in Florida in Boca Raton, Palm Beach County, in February 1978.”

Tarantula Hawk with Prey
Tarantula Hawk with Prey

thank you for the info, now i know the name of what’s eating my plants in a caterpillar form… !
have a great day
Fred

 

Letter 31 – Spotted Oleander Caterpillar Moth

 

Subject: bug in Key Largo
Location: Key Largo, Fl. 33037
March 11, 2015 2:18 pm
Dear Mr. Bugman,
I found this bug in my chicken house. Could you please give an ID?
Signature: treelady6

Spotted Oleander Caterpillar Moth
Spotted Oleander Caterpillar Moth

Dear treelady6,
This Spotted Oleander Caterpillar Moth,
Empyreuma pugione, is a very effective wasp mimic.  According to BugGuide:  “The spotted oleander caterpillar is a recent immigrant to the US from the Caribbean, first recorded in Florida in Boca Raton, Palm Beach County, in February 1978.”

Letter 32 – Spotted Oleander Caterpillar Moth

 

Subject:  Is this bug some sort of wasp?
Geographic location of the bug:  Tampa, Florida
Date: 11/05/2017
Time: 06:09 PM EDT
Hello Bugman,
I spotted this very pretty and colorful little bug this afternoon.  She was only interested in my Marigolds.  Is she some sort of wasp?
Thanks in advance!
Michele
How you want your letter signed:  Michele Mistretta

Spotted Oleander Caterpillar Moth

Dear Michele,
Though it resembles a Wasp, this is actually a Spotted Oleander Caterpillar Moth.  We have written in the past of how the Spotted Oleander Caterpillar Moth resembles a Tarantula Hawk, a large Spider Wasp that preys upon Tarantulas and Trapdoor Spiders, but there are no reported Tarantula Hawks with black bodies and red wings found in Florida.

Holy moly!  I never would have guessed!  Such a pretty bug!
As always, thanks so much!
Michele Mistretta

Letter 33 – Spotted Oleander Caterpillar Moth

 

Subject:  Beautiful Moth???
Geographic location of the bug:  Tarpon Springs, Florida
Date: 12/10/2017
Time: 04:42 PM EDT
I saw this moth last night on my car..it is just in time for Christmas..with the beautiful red color..  I’ve never seen anything like it!  Please help me Bugman..
How you want your letter signed:  Chrissy from Florida

Spotted Oleander Caterpillar Moth

Dear Chrissy,
This very effective wasp mimic is a Spotted Oleander Caterpillar Moth.

Letter 34 – Spotted Oleander Caterpillar Moth

 

Subject:  What is this thing?!
Geographic location of the bug:  St Pete Florida
Date: 02/04/2018
Time: 09:29 AM EDT
Your letter to the bugman:  Hey guys,
This thing was on the exterior wall of a building. Can you tell me what it is?
How you want your letter signed:  Michael

Spotted Oleander Caterpillar Moth

Dear Michael,
Is there an oleander shrub nearby?  Though it looks like a wasp, this is actually a Spotted Oleander Caterpillar Moth.

Letter 35 – Spotted Oleander Caterpillar Moth

 

Subject:  Moth?
Geographic location of the bug:  St Petersburg,  FL
Date: 10/09/2018
Time: 06:07 PM EDT
Your letter to the bugman:  I saw this insect fluttering around my backyard. I suspect it is some kind of moth.  It was October 6th around 1430. Each time it landed it would pump it’s wings several times slowly before settling down.  What a beauty.  Um…. what is it?
How you want your letter signed:  Del

Spotted Oleander Caterpillar Moth

Dear Del,
This Spotted Oleander Caterpillar Moth is a very effective wasp mimic.  Though you are not located for a direct hit, we hope you don’t have much damage from Hurricane Michael.

Spotted Oleander Caterpillar Moth

Letter 36 – Spotted Oleander Caterpillar Moth

 

Subject:  Large black wasp? With orange wings
Geographic location of the bug:  Central East Coast of FL, Daytona Beach
Date: 05/11/2019
Time: 12:22 PM EDT
Your letter to the bugman:  Hello, This creature is hanging around my porch. The lizzards are avoiding like the plague.Just wondering if I should be concerned for ppl and pets. Thank You for your time. Have a Great Day.
How you want your letter signed:  Teri

Spotted Oleander Caterpillar Moth

Dear Teri,
The fact that both you and the lizards were fooled by the protective mimicry of the Spotted Oleander Caterpillar Moth is a testament to its effectiveness.  Despite its resemblance to stinging Spider Wasps like the Tarantula Hawk, the moth is perfectly harmless.

Letter 37 – Spotted Oleander Caterpillar Moth from Cayman Islands

 

Subject: Pompilidae or Mimic?
Location: Grand Cayman, Cayman Islands, British West Indies
July 21, 2012 11:05 pm
This insect emerged from a chrysalis in an office on Grand Cayman (British West Indies) yesterday. Since I don’t think it fits the wasp life cycle, I suppose it probably isn’t a spider-hunting wasp, but more likely a moth that looks similar to one. Can you identify it? Thanks very much. I love What’s That Bug!
Signature: Melissa

Spotted Oleander Caterpillar Moth

Hi Melissa,
This Spotted Oleander Caterpillar Moth,
Empyreuma affinis, or a closely related species or subspecies, is a very effective wasp mimic.

Thank you, Daniel.  We over here at the vet school on Grand Cayman appreciate the info.  And I realized in retrospect I probably should have indicated “pupa” rather than “chrysalis”.
Melissa

Letter 38 – Spotted Oleander Caterpillar Moth is effective Wasp Mimic

 

Subject:  Black Wasp with Orange Wings
Geographic location of the bug:  Tampa Flodisa
Date: 06/02/2021
Time: 08:45 PM EDT
Your letter to the bugman:  Is this a Tarantula Wasp?
How you want your letter signed:  Please help to identify, thanks Bug Guru

Spotted Oleander Caterpillar Moth

Though it effectively mimics certain wasps, notably Tarantula Hawks, Empyreuma affinis, is actually a harmless Spotted Oleander Caterpillar Moth which does not sting, but benefits from looking like an insect with a powerful sting.

Letter 39 – Spotted Oleander Caterpillar from Puerto Rico

 

Subject: Caterpillar
Location: Vieques, Puerto Rico
January 19, 2016 9:19 am
Can someone please identify these caterpillars. They are infesting one of my plants 🙁
Signature: Playacofi

Spotted Oleander Caterpillar
Spotted Oleander Caterpillar

Dear Playacofi,
Knowing the plant host is often a great help in identifying caterpillars and other herbivorous insects.  This is a Spotted Oleander Caterpillar,
Empyreuma affinis, and it is commonly found feeding on oleander.  According to Featured Creatures:  “It is a native of the Caribbean region and has been recorded from Guadeloupe, Martinique, Haiti, Dominican Republic, and Cuba.”  The plant in your image does not appear to be oleander, which is the food plant identified on BugGuide.  You can compare your image to this image on BugGuide for verification.

Letter 40 – Spotted Oleander Moth Caterpillar

 

Identifying This Caterpillar
Location:  Orlando Florida
August 27, 2010 10:18 pm
Hey Bugman,
I’m a new butterfly student. I’m becoming familiar with many types of caterpillars and all that, but still am struggling with this one. The identification page I use is not available and I don’t yet have the book, ”Caterpillars of Eastern North America: A Guide to Identification and Natural History (Princeton Field Guides)” that Edith suggested to me.
Can you help?
Sincere thanks and I look forward to learning more from your site in the future!
Shay

Spotted Oleander Moth Caterpillar

Hi Shay,
It sounds like you are really serious about being able to identify caterpillars.  Get in the habit of noting and identifying the plants upon which the caterpillars were feeding.  This information can be indispensable in the identification process, especially if the caterpillar feeds on the leaves of a single plant as opposed to being a general feeder.  We believe your caterpillar is a Spotted Oleander Moth Caterpillar,
Empyreuma affinis, based on photos posted to BugGuide.  If it was feeding on oleander, then we would be much more certain of the identification.

Thanks so much!!
Actually, the caterpillar was in some privacy shrubs- Viburnum.
I am very serious about it. I have a neuromuscular disease and learning about, raising, and searching for butterflies has been a true therapy. THEN, I just fell in love with it.
Waiting on my book.
Got a new camera.
And my microscope camera should be here in a week. I’ll learn about everything about it that I possibly can.  I want to do this forever. 🙂 Even if my forever ends up cut a bit shorter than was originally planned. 🙂
I thought the same- or a polka dot wasp moth, both of which rely on oleander. Odd, though, to find it where I did. I found a Giant Leopard Moth caterpillar in there as well… but he was actually eating. This didn’t help much because of the variety in their diet.
Anyway, sorry about that babble fest. Thanks so much for your help!
Shay

Hi again Shay,
Thanks for the additional information.  We did a bit more research and we located an online article published by the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences that states:  “The spotted oleander caterpillar may be mistaken for the saltmarsh caterpillar, Estigmene acrea (Drury). However, the body of the saltmarsh caterpillar is densely covered with hairs whereas the spotted oleander caterpillar only has tufts of hairs on its body.
”  Your caterpillar has the tufts of hair.  The article also indicates:  “Oleander is the only recorded host plant of the spotted oleander caterpillar.”  That would mean that there must have been an oleander bush near the privacy shrubs.  Caterpillars have been known to travel a considerable distance from the plants upon which they have been feeding before finding a spot where they pupate.  We wish you the best of luck with you new passion.

Update
September 2, 2010
Thank you so much. You are correct, and thank you for doing all the research. I myself did some as well, and after looking on the other side of the fence in the neighboring complexes yard, I found LOTS of oleander.
I appreciate your help so much.
PS- was able to witness a polymepheus lay eggs last night on oak. VERY very excited about it.
Thanks again!!!
Shay

Authors

    by
  • Bugman

    Bugman aka Daniel Marlos has been identifying bugs since 1999. whatsthatbug.com is his passion project and it has helped millions of readers identify the bug that has been bugging them for over two decades. You can reach out to him through our Contact Page.

  • Piyushi Dhir

    Piyushi is a nature lover, blogger and traveler at heart. She lives in beautiful Canada with her family. Piyushi is an animal lover and loves to write about all creatures.

21 thoughts on “Spotted Oleander Caterpillar: Essential Facts and Tips”

  1. I just saw one of those last night rite here in queens, new york. It was absolutely beautiful. i took photos. I’ve never seen anything like it. its kind of off course isn’t it?

    Reply
  2. Howdy would you mind sharing which blog platform you’re using? I’m planning to start my own blog in the near future but I’m having a difficult time selecting between BlogEngine/Wordpress/B2evolution and Drupal. The reason I ask is because your layout seems different then most blogs and I’m looking for something completely unique. P.S Sorry for getting off-topic but I had to ask!

    Reply
  3. I am in Fayetteville, NC. I have a moth here at my office that i believe to be the same as this. It showed up this am…and has stayed in the same place all day.

    Reply
  4. i have several caterpillars on my oleander here in West Palm Beach saw the moth several times in my chocolate jasmine bush & was curious to see what it was so I was happy to be able toidentify it through site. They are quiet unusual(the moth) especially up close. I do have some good photos if you would like to see them. Thanks Cheryl

    Reply
  5. The accepted name is Empyreuma pugione, E. affinis is a junior synonym. (Weller SJ, Simmons RB, Carlson AL. 2004. Empyreuma species and species limits: Evidence from morphology and molecules (Arctiidae). Journal of Lepidopterists Society. 58(1): 21-32.) It is a common specie in Puerto Rico. Since it is native from the Caribbean and the oleander is not, it is quite sure it has/had another unknow host plants.

    Reply
  6. In Yabucoa, Puerto Rico and I noticed this bright orange caterpillar devoured my beautiful lush green vine and my yellow bloomed plant

    Reply
  7. The Spotted Oleander is in Tampa, Fl. My swollen knee, painful sting & its corpse is proof of its poison from the Oleander plant it feeds on.
    Very pretty…

    Reply
  8. The Spotted Oleander is in Tampa, Fl. My swollen knee, painful sting & its corpse is proof of its poison from the Oleander plant it feeds on.
    Very pretty…

    Reply
  9. We found one yesterday on the oleanders here in Largo, Florida. NOT Key Largo, but the Largo in central Florida (just west of Tampa). Apparently these bugs are working they way northwards. It was very docile and kept coming back to crawl about on my brother’s hands and arms.

    Reply
  10. I found a bunch of these on my dipladenia today. I’m in Clearwater, FL. I knocked them all off and they went flying towards the fence. Now that I know what they are, if I see them come back– what should I do?

    Reply

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