The leopard cub

When I mentioned earlier that I was on the patio watching for a specific insect, this is what I was talking about.

We moved to our present home in September 2004.  Only a month later I photographed this marvelous creature hanging out on my patio one morning.  Still unfamiliar with my camera, I snapped a few small, low-res, poor quality photos—only one of which was presentable.

Known as the Giant Leopard Moth (a.k.a. Eyed Tiger Moth, Leopard Moth, or Great Leopard Moth; Hypercompe scribonia), I found the rather docile yet large spectacle to be intriguing and a marvelous welcoming party.

At the time, my insect identification skills were lacking.  I loved bugs then as much as I do now.  It’s just that I hadn’t spent a great deal of time learning about their tremendous diversity and individual characteristics.  What I knew was simple: ants, wasps, and bees were dangerous (due to my deadly allergy to their stings), but all creepy-crawlies were marvelous.

Basically, I lived each day with a “Cool!  Look at that!  Let’s snap a photo!” mentality.  And knowing little about the insects in question and even less about my own camera, far too many photographs from that time were relegated to the too-out-of-focus-to-present dumpster.  Hell, I hadn’t even heard of macro settings, let alone discovered that my new little Canon point-and-shoot actually supported them.

I spent but a few moments identifying that moth.  Regrettably, I never looked at its caterpillar stages.  Now I’m sorry that’s the case.

After a long and tiring week, I came home yesterday afternoon and spent a bit of time catching up on the news and my favorite blogs.  I posted a few items before deciding the rest of the evening belonged to us, The Kids and me.

Larenti was outside on the patio, so I stepped out there to visit with her for a minute or two.  The sun already had fallen low toward the western horizon.  Its light was feeble at best.

I recognized we were not alone the moment I stepped out the bedroom door.  My peripheral vision caught undeniable movement near my feet.  Whatever it was, I knew it was large.

I felt pleasantly surprised to see a gargantuan caterpillar making its way along the French doors.  In fact, an exhilarating rush swept over me as I’d never before seen this particular species.  Or so I thought at the time.

The jet black beast spanned at least three inches (eight centimeters) from stem to stern.  It grew longer when stretched out in forward motion.  Furry with bristling hairs reaching out from all parts of its body, I grew mesmerized with this tiny leviathan.

A Giant Leopard Moth caterpillar (Hypercompe scribonia) (207_0735)

Its body at least three-quarters of an inch (two centimeters) in diameter not considering its hair, this shadow monster intrigued me to no end.

I sat mesmerized as it scurried about the perimeter of the patio with great agility and determination.  I even tried snapping some photographs without disturbing it (like the one above), yet immediately I realized the sun’s waning light offered little assistance.  I also knew utilizing the flash at macro ranges would produce unusable images.  So I tried desperately to capture some moments in natural light—all to no avail.

Even I know furry caterpillars are to be avoided unless you know what you’re dealing with.  A great many of these insects can sting, and some of those injuries can be quite dangerous.  One need only think of the seemingly harmless, fantastic looking puss caterpillar (Megalopyge opercularis) to know how true that sentiment is.

Having not recognized this particular species, I decided to play it safe and not touch it directly.  Instead, I picked up a small piece of wood from the fence and used it to fetch the impressive creature.

The moment I disturbed it, however, it presented its only defensive maneuver: to curl into a ball… and wait.

A Giant Leopard Moth caterpillar (Hypercompe scribonia) (207_0751)

How fascinating!  How marvelous!

That such bristly hairs could suspend it above any surface offered me a diverting view.  I couldn’t help but be intrigued by this wonderful image.

Because the day had grown old and its light faint, I had to overexpose each image in hopes of gaining a wee bit of detail.  One of those moments in time offered a view of its normally hidden red stripes.

A Giant Leopard Moth caterpillar (Hypercompe scribonia) (207_0771)

I eventually put it back on the ground where it could go about its business.  Watching it over a large swathe of time, I learned it’s rather slow to move once its gone into its defensive posture.  Only when the sun had set and darkness had consumed the world did it finally stretch out, flip over, and move on.  That was more than two hours after I had originally moved it.

Then this morning I found two of them roaming about the patio.  Three different caterpillars?  Or just two?  I haven’t a clue.  I didn’t exactly tag them for later identification.

Nevertheless, I hadn’t yet identified the species and didn’t feel comfortable touching them, so I let them wander about at will.

Only later did I finally realize they are innocuous.  Had I known that yesterday, I would have been able to offer better images, especially a comparison shot with it in my hand.

And now?

Now I know it’s probably the last instar before the leopard cub becomes a leopard adult.  I imagine both (or all three) of the children were looking for places to cocoon.  I would have loved the opportunity to grab them—or at least one of them—so I could follow its final transformation into an impressive moth of profound size and coloration.

So I’m keeping an eye out for more of them, as I was doing earlier today.  I’m not holding my breath, mind you.

5 thoughts on “The leopard cub”

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  2. Hey, Leopard club…
    I had found a grown, huge-ish Leopard Moth here in MD. I love setting nature free in it’s natural environment, but this over sized intriguing moth had me captured. I brought it home on my arm, and tried as hard as I could not to drop it. At the decision upon keeping it, I need to know all about what the adult species need to eat… Or when to let it go. Besides that, is it any good keeping it? Or should I let it go, NOW? I’d like to set up a home as comfy and nature like as possible for the adult moth butterfly giant thing…
    Please answer immediately!!! URGENT!

  3. I highly recommend you let the moth go. The adults only live long enough to breed and lay eggs, after which they die. Keeping one in captivity will be a very short experience as the moth won’t live very long–especially if it already mated. If it hasn’t already mated, it deserves the chance to do so.

  4. i have many of these leopard caterpillars crawling all over the outside off my house and so far i have found two in the house i have i 16 month baby and i am scared one mite do something to her since she walks all over the house

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