Winter brings cold, snow and the desire to stay warm. What better time to review the photos of critters taken in more pleasant weather. It was the beginning of Fall, September, that while clearing the path I call “Lower Turtle Trail,” I noticed a bright yellow splotch on a deep green leaf of a Huckleberry bush (Vaccinium stamineum). It was a color that was really out of place. As usual, the question was, “What is that?” Answer: a gorgeous caterpillar — one I’d never seen before. Since it was quite happy munching away at the leaf, I figured it would still be there when I came back with the camera. It sure is nice being right. I also brought along a pint canning jar. After our photo session, into the jar it went, along with a twig with some uneaten leaves. I use the two part lids, replacing the metal disc with waxed paper I punch with little holes. Then I got out the books. Couldn’t find it. Got on the Internet, searched, couldn’t find it. Now what. Fortunately a friend who worked at the St. Louis Zoo’s invertebrate unit, stopped by for a visit. It was new to him too. But, he knew his boss would know. So off went the e-mail with photo. Back came the answer: Stinging Rose Caterpillar (Parasa indetermina), fairly common, not endangered. Good. So back into the wild with it.
Now that I had a name, I could find more about it. There are different types of caterpillars, this one is belongs to a group commonly called Slug Caterpillars (Limacodidae). “Why,” you might ask? Because it glides. Sort of like a slug which most gardeners dislike tremendously. Instead of having paired abdominal prolegs to get around, they have specialized medial suckers. So, instead of “walking” they glide, somewhat as do Snails. Having had it in a glass jar, and moving around on my hand, there was another noticeable difference between this caterpillar and snails/slugs — no slime — not needed. This one has yellow as a base color, but with other Parasa, could be orange or red. The spiny protuberances along the body are said to “sting.” and cause an unpleasant skin reaction. Of course I found this out after I touched the little spines to see if they were stiff or soft. And after letting it glide over, under and around my hand. Didn’t bother me, this time, at least.
It is a bit amazing to me that all these years of wandering about in and near the woods, this is the first time I saw one. Naturally, a couple of days later, saw another one on a wild cherry tree leaf. Interesting.