Tag Archives: giant leopard moth (Hypercompe scribonia)


I said: “I hope some of the photos are presentable.”

Last Wednesday, a “leopard cub (or so I like to call them), the child of giant leopard moths (a.k.a. eyed tiger moths or great leopard moths; Hypercompe scribonia),” came to visit unexpectedly.

I first encountered the adult back in May 2006.  I then enjoyed a bit of exposure to a young’un in August 2007.  And while at the family farm in September, I once again saw an adult, only then I was able to get much closer.

Regrettably, I didn’t recognize the first child I saw and, therefore, had no clue as to whether or not the furry little critter could sting.  Caterpillars with hair should never be handled unless you’re sure on that point.

Only later did I realize it presented no threat.

So when Larenti and I discovered this most recent visitor, I greedily snatched up the opportunity to visit with the little beast.

Without further tongue wagging from me, here are some photos showing how the visit progressed.

These caterpillars have no natural defenses other than to roll into a ball and hope for the best.  Despite their red markings when in this position, they have no toxic weapons with which to fight predators.  Curling up and showing their crimson is the pinnacle of what they can do when threatened.

And so this one did precisely that when I picked it up from the patio floor and carried it inside.  How those hairs felt alien, ticklish, bizarre against the palm of my hand.

A giant leopard moth caterpillar (a.k.a. eyed tiger moth or great leopard moth; Hypercompe scribonia)

I placed it gently on a notepad to give it time to relax.  In that the first one I photographed remained in this position for almost 30 minutes, patience was the word of the moment.

A giant leopard moth caterpillar (a.k.a. eyed tiger moth or great leopard moth; Hypercompe scribonia)

Finally, ever so slowly, it unraveled, much like a flower’s petals unfold with a stillness we can’t imagine.  I barely moved for fear of pushing it back to its reclusive position.

Yet, after much time, it did become full of life from a lifeless calm, and it began to move.  So I offered it a hand.

And up it climbed.

A giant leopard moth caterpillar (a.k.a. eyed tiger moth or great leopard moth; Hypercompe scribonia)

And up it climbed some more, taking hold of my sweatshirt and continuing its journey upward.  And upward.  And upward.

A giant leopard moth caterpillar (a.k.a. eyed tiger moth or great leopard moth; Hypercompe scribonia)

When at last it reached my shoulder, its path took an abrupt turn.

Across my chest it marched.

A bit of discovery ensued as it tickled my neck with its marching before a slow swoop took it back to my neck, back to my chest, and forward—at least from its perspective.

Upon discovering my other arm, I laughed as it crawled back toward the desk, back toward where it began this exploration.

Then it landed upon my right hand whence it explored as though finding some new world.  I suppose, from its perspective, it was a new world.

A giant leopard moth caterpillar (a.k.a. eyed tiger moth or great leopard moth; Hypercompe scribonia)

Fingertips became a precipice unfathomably high.  Yet its tiny little legs clung to me like tape.

A giant leopard moth caterpillar (a.k.a. eyed tiger moth or great leopard moth; Hypercompe scribonia)

No more a smile than a gaping wound on my face, I teetered on the edge of blissful oblivion as it explored, reached, walked, climbed, tarried.  All this, no less, upon a single hand.


Moths galore

Yesterday’s visit to East Texas provided yet more proof of the diversity of insect life thriving in the area.  No greater examples can be found when arriving in the morning than moths spent from their night frolicking and forced to rest through the morning hours.

A female giant leopard moth (a.k.a. eyed tiger moth or great leopard moth; Hypercompe scribonia) (213_1389)

Its black spots iridescent in the bright morning sun, this female giant leopard moth (a.k.a. eyed tiger moth or great leopard moth; Hypercompe scribonia) held tightly to the central light pole even while slipping from the world after having given her all to produce another generation of her kind.  In her stillness and beauty I lost myself for a few moments.  I knew I was witnessing her final hours, yet her exquisite display held me tightly and kept me near.

As I looked at her, I remembered her family in Dallas who just last month visited me in childhood form and who early last year visited me in adulthood.

A female giant leopard moth (a.k.a. eyed tiger moth or great leopard moth; Hypercompe scribonia) (214_1450)

Wingtips tattered and worn to transparency, their black and white scales lost to time, I visited her several hours after the first photo only to find her still clinging to life just as she was clinging to the light post.  Shadow embraced her and shielded her from the afternoon’s heat.  I knew it wouldn’t be long before it embraced her forever.

Somewhere I did not find lay her hopes for her species.  Eggs never to be found would produce another brood that would start as red-ringed black caterpillars who would grow to enormous proportions, and those spectacular monsters would eventually cocoon so as to give rise to more winged leopards.

I eventually left her to her fate.

A waved sphinx moth (Ceratomia undulosa) (214_1415)

Much higher on the same pole rested another female moth, one undoubtedly expiring just like the first.  Although difficult to photograph due to her position near the top of her perch, I did grab a quick photo of this waved sphinx moth (Ceratomia undulosa).  I suspected she too had spent the night engaging in a desperate attempt to procreate.

Not once did she move from her spot.  Not once. . .

Too high up to photograph easily, we moved one of the farm trucks against the light pole so I could get higher for a photograph or two.  The perch still left me far below her.  Nevertheless, I was able to at least get that one respectable image.

[Note: Despite the similarities, this waved sphinx moth is not to be confused with the plebeian sphinx moth (Paratrea plebeja) I photographed earlier this year.  And kudos to anyone who can identify what makes one different from the other.  Both are enormous so size doesn’t count.]

And that leaves us finally with the most exceptional discovery of the day.

A female tersa sphinx moth (Xylophanes tersa) (214_1414)

Some distance above the waved sphinx moth rested a creature I heretofore had never seen in person.  Its presence was a phenomenal gift.  While not rare, I had never expected to see it in such relatively close quarters.

So near the top of the light post as to be in the clouds, I stared up from the bed of the truck at this female tersa sphinx moth (Xylophanes tersa).  It regrettably was in the sky and impossible for me to photograph from any other angle.  We would have been forced to stack ladders atop the truck upon which I stood if there was to be any hope of capturing better images.

A female tersa sphinx moth (Xylophanes tersa) (214_1417)

Nevertheless, everyone fell victim to the intrigue created by the soft warmth and undeniable uniqueness of this large insect.  With wings held back in singular form, its tapered body captivated all of us.  I only wish I had been able to get closer.

A female tersa sphinx moth (Xylophanes tersa) (214_1418)

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.

Black and white

I discovered this gal on my patio one morning.  In this position with her wings folded back, she was about 2.5 inches (6 centimeters) long.  Sadly, she took off after I snapped this photo, so I never did capture a better picture of her.  Still, her wonderfully unique coloration is evident even in this sub-par presentation.

Black and white moth (138_3821)

[Update]: This large moth is called a leopard moth (also giant leopard moth or great leopard moth) and is scientifically known as Hypercompe scribonia.