A New Caterpillar In the Garden-An Exciting and Lucky Find
Today is a day off from work and as is usual, I am spending it in the garden. While gathering up a dead shrub I happened to glance down at a nearby baptisia and spotted three prickly looking caterpillars that I had not seen in the garden before. Hmmmm, I have several baptisias and some have been eaten to the stems so this caterpillar interested me. Not the mention that after my encounter with a prickly saddleback caterpillar I am very wary of prickly caterpillars in the garden. Prickly caterpillars can sting you severely so it is always best to leave them alone!! I kept my distance, took a few pictures and got on my computer to try to identify these caterpillars.
I am not good at identifying caterpillars or even butterflies for that matter, but there is a handy site called Caterpillars that has a link to a BuGGuide where you can look up what seems like millions of pictures of caterpillars and hopefully get an identification. Bingo! It only took me going through about 50 pictures before I found my caterpillar. It seems it is an instar of the Automeris moth.
The Automeris moth is a common moth of North America and one of its host plants is baptisia. These caterpillars in the above picture appear to be an early instar. The caterpillars of the Automeris go through five changes (instar stages) before they begin their metamorphosing into a cocoon to turn into a moth.
I think the little caterpillars were a neat find in the garden but I am ever so grateful I did not brush up against these caterpillars because, not surprisingly, the prickly hairs STING! If you have never had the misfortune of brushing up against a stinging caterpillar such as these or the saddlebacks I can describe the pain for you. It is instantaneous and feels like someone poured burning water on your skin. The skin will turn red and look like it is burned. The pain will usually subside in a few days but I promise you won't ever forget the experience so beware when spotting new caterpillars....
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