Purple-lined Sun Moth caterpillar

2014 July 30

Our neighbor across the street found this medium-sized, rather colorful caterpillar eating her Hydrangeas on July 22, 2013, and thoughtfully brought it over to me to identify.

Going through “Owlet Caterpillars of North America”, the most likely candidate appears to be the Purple-Lined Sun Moth, Pyrrhia exprimens (which Bug Guide gives the common name of “Purple-Lined Sallow”).

Given the white body, orange stripes on the side, black legs, and many spots, I don’t think there’s a lot of scope for confusing this one with anything else.

However, the Hydrangea stalk she brought over also had this second caterpillar on it that I thought was something else, since it looks almost completely different.

But! It turns out that these caterpillars aren’t white with orange stripes until after their fourth molt! Before then, (according to BugGuide, at least) they are green, black-spotted caterpillars with white stripes!

Of course, I say “according to BugGuide”, because it never occurred to me that the little green one and the big white-and-orange one could be the same species, so I didn’t try raising the green one to confirm (instead, I fed the green one to the predatory stink bugs I was rearing at the time. Whoops.

Anyway, I’m not sure but that this might be the first recorded instance of these caterpillars eating hydrangeas. The references only mention them eating sweetfern and knotweed, which aren’t even particularly related to hydrangeas. Or, evidently, to each other, for that matter.

2 Responses
  1. Sharon permalink
    May 14, 2015

    Not on my hydrangea, but nestibg on another tree. Turns into a beautiful white moth. I have pics.

  2. Sarah permalink
    July 31, 2015

    Thank you!! I found this guy in the middle of a rose bud today and wasn’t happy. But I really wanted to know what he was. I moved him to my butterfly weed and took a million pictures, then gave him to my DD who loves all crawlies, especially caterpillars. So now we need to figure out how to get this guy to transform. 🙂

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