The Leopard moth caterpillar's exterior has fuzzy black bristles with orange or red bands between its body segments. It's harmless and feeds on broad-leafed plants (dandelions, violets, magnolias) and munches on leaves from trees like willows, cherries, and mulberries.
Adult Leopard Moth Description
An adult Leopard moth (scientific name Hypercompe Scribonia, previously Ecpantheria scribonia) is of the order Lepidoptera, subfamily Arctiinae, and family Erebidae.
A Giant leopard moth’s wings are bright white, dotted with a pattern of black and shiny blue dots. The pattern act as camouflage to shield the giant leopard moth from predators.
Leopard moths have a 2.25 to 3.6 inches wingspan. They have a colorful abdomen, iridescent blue with orange markings on the top, and a white underside with solid black spots. The legs are covered with banded black and white colors. Adult male Leopard moths are almost twice as large as females.
The adult Leopard moth is nocturnal, flying only at night and resting on tree trunks during the day. The males are more attracted to artificial lights at night than the females and may swirl around bright lights.
When threatened, the adult Leopard moth pretends to be dead and secretes tiny droplets of yellowish-acrid fluid that stick to the moth’s sides to ward off predators.
The Giant leopard moth lives in meadows, fields, and forest edges of North America from southern Ontario through New England, Mexico, and south to Colombia.
What Does a Leopard Moth Caterpillar Look Like?
A Leopard moth caterpillar has a “woolly bear”-type red-stripped body, contrasting the white wings of the adult Leopard moth. It grows to approximately 2 inches, with shiny black bristles (setae) covering its body.
The bristles don’t cause irritation or discomfort when touched, but the caterpillar may react by curling up in a ball, exposing the bright red or orange bands between its body segments to warn off predators.
Younger caterpillars have broad red or orange segments on the thorax, head, and abdomen. The Leopard moth caterpillar has a small yellow breathing hole (spiracle) on both sides of all thoracic segments.
Leopard Moth Caterpillar vs. Woolly Worm
Many people tend to confuse the Leopard moth caterpillar and the woolly worm. The two have similarities and differences, as shown below.
|Got the name woolly worm or woolly bear for the stiff hair-like bristles that cover their body.||The woolly worm caterpillar is the larva form of the Isabella tiger moth, while the Leopard moth caterpillar is the larva form of the Giant leopard moth.|
|They have the same defensive mechanism.||The woolly worm caterpillar is black at either end with a band of orange or reddish brown in the middle, while the Leopard moth caterpillar has red or orange bands between its body segments.|
|They are not poisonous or toxic to humans, but their bristly hairs can irritate some people.||The woolly worm caterpillar feeds mainly on flowers, grasses, and leaves of flowering plants like clover. In contrast, the Leopard moth caterpillar feeds on broad-leafed plants like dandelions, violets, and magnolias.|
Giant Leopard Moth Caterpillar Diet
The Giant leopard moth caterpillar is polyphagous and feeds on various woody plants and low-growing forbs.
Once hatched, the Giant leopard moth caterpillar will feed briefly on a plant and then move to a plant of another species to continue. The “food-mixing” behavior may result in eating toxic plants that the caterpillar can use for defense.
The caterpillars have occasionally ate at lepidopterists’ sugar baits on tree trunks. Besides cabbage, lemon, and sweet orange, this caterpillar will eat the banana, avocados, and other food plants, such as:
Natural Enemies and Defense Systems
Common predators that pose a risk to the Giant leopard moth caterpillar include mantids, flies, parasitic wasps, spiders, and birds.
The stiff setae of the Leopard moth caterpillar act as an effective defense mechanism against certain invertebrate and vertebrate predators.
When threatened, the Leopard moth caterpillar curls up tightly to protect its vulnerable undersides. In this defensive posture, visible bright red intersegmental body parts are exposed. This aposematic display warns predators that they are unpalatable.
The Giant leopard moths and their caterpillars may also use the toxins ingested from various plants for defense. Adult moths rely on the spots on their wings to camouflage them and make them less visible to predators.
Giant Leopard Moth Caterpillar as a Pet
You may find Giant leopard moth caterpillars in forest environments and public areas like farmlands and gardens. Proper care includes making a home, feeding the caterpillar until the pupa forms, and then letting the moth roam free.
Making a Home
- Find a large jar with a cover.
- Poke several holes into the jar’s cover to make it breathable. Ensure the holes are small to prevent the caterpillar from escaping.
- Collected dirt from the caterpillar’s living area and fill the jar with a 2-3 inch layer of the dirt.
- Add twigs, grass, and leaves to create a natural habitat for the caterpillar.
- Change out the leaves regularly because they decay.
- Clean your caterpillar’s home using a paper towel to wipe its waste.
Feeding The Caterpillar
- Check your yard for caterpillar host plants such as dandelions, violets, magnolias, citrus plants, and broad-leafed plantains.
- Place the host plant’s leaves inside the jar. If there is enough space, you can place live plants too. Ensure the caterpillar has enough food to move to the pupa stage.
Leopard Moth Caterpillar Hibernation
A Leopard moth caterpillar hibernates for some time during winter. It might wake up for some light foraging on warmer days.
When under human care, the Leopard moth caterpillar can be kept outside in special containers to overwinter. You can also put it into the refrigerator, but not a freezer — you don’t want to freeze your caterpillar.
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Tabitha is a nature lover who loves nothing more than a day spent outdoors. With her introverted personality, she often finds herself seeking solitude in the outdoors. She loves the feeling of being surrounded by nature and the peace it brings her. She also finds herself drawn to the beauty that exists in this world, whether it’s a majestic waterfall or a butterfly fluttering by.