South African Caterpillar is Grass Skipper

What kind of caterpillar is this?
Location: Johannesburg, South Africa
April 3, 2011 12:58 pm
Hi, I’m not very knowledgeable on bugs so I am assuming this is a caterpillar…if it is, what kind is it? Also, would you be able to advise me on which leaves it eats as well?
Thanks Bugman
Signature: Mel

Grass Skipper Caterpillar

Hi Mel,
Since receiving your email a few days ago, we have tried unsuccessfully to identify this Caterpillar, which we believe will metamorphose into a butterfly and not a moth.  Our best guesses are perhaps a Skipper Caterpillar in the family Hesperiidae, a Brush Footed Butterfly Caterpillar in the family Nymphalidae, or a member of the family of Sulphurs and Whites, Pieridae.  Since we have not had any luck, we are contacting Keith Wolfe who often identifies butterfly caterpillars for us.  It appears that this Caterpillar is on eucalyptus or gum.  Is that correct?
P.S.  We just noticed that you are requesting information on what it eats.  Perhaps the gum leaves were your attempt to feed this Caterpillar and it was not found there.  Please clarify.

Hi Daniel,
Thanks for your quick reply! I found the caterpillar on a dead leaf of the only tree in the vicinity so I assumed that it ate those leaves, but just wanted to clarify. I have been trying (unsuccessfully) to identify the tree from the leaf that I found. I have attached a scanned image of one of the leaves in case that may help?

Karl provides an ID
Hi Daniel and Mel:
I think this is most likely the late instar caterpillar of a Grass Skipper (Hesperiidae: Hesperiinae). It could be a species of Pelopidas, perhaps P. mathias which is one of two species found in South Africa. Another possibility is the genus Borbo which has at least ten representatives in South Africa. I wasn’t able to find any photos of South African Borbo species, but here is one from the Malay Peninsula and one from Australia. Species in both genera are commonly referred to as Swifts. It may also be some other related skipper – there are lots to choose from and many are quite similar. What all members of the subfamily have in common is that they feed on grasses. Some species are generalists but others are quite specific about which grasses they will feed on.  Regards. Karl

Keith Wolfe concurs
Hi Daniel,
This is certainly a skipper larva — definitely not a young nymphalid or pierid, though the latter are somewhat similar in appearance.  I’m away from home and thus my references, so my next email will be to a South African friend for his firsthand opinion.
Best wishes,

Keith Wolfe clarifies
April 14, 2011
Mel, Daniel, and Karl: Concerning the subject skipper caterpillar, today I received the below reply from André Coetzer, noted South African lepidopterist, herpetologist, and photographer.
“The skipper larva you sent looks like a Gegenes larvae, but seeing as G. niso, G. pumilio and to a lesser extent G. hottentota occurs in Johannesburg, I can’t tell you which one it is.  I’ve only bred G. niso so I have no idea what the other two’s larvae look like.”
Here is more information —
Best wishes,

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