Tuesday, 2 December 2014

Stinging Rose Moth Caterpillar

Beautiful yellow stinging rose moth caterpillar (Parasa indetermina)
Stinging Rose Moth Caterpillar
Copyright: James Shelton
(CC BY-NC-SA 3.0)
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Arthropoda
Class: Insecta
Order: Lepidoptera
Family: Limacodidae
Genus: Parasa
Species: Parasa indetermina
Common Name(s): Stinging Rose Moth, Stinging rose

The extremely colorful creature you see on the left is the larval stage of the Stinging Rose Moth. Is it the most colorful and weird caterpillar you have ever seen or what?

The Stinging Rose Moth is endemic to North American forests, occurring from New York to Florida, west to Missouri and Texas. Despite its widespread distribution, the species is considered to be rare due to the low numbers of reported sightings.

Fully-grown caterpillars range from 3/4 to 7/8 inch long, with the basic color being yellow, orange or red. Their body features pairs of long, horn-like, bristly spines and clumps of smaller spines. The large spines are usually yellow.

During this stage, the species is easily distinguished by the characteristic broad purplish stripe that runs down the midline of the back. Within the stripe are narrow whitish lines that are sometimes interrupted by constrictions in the stripe. Red, white, orange and purple lines may occur along the sides.

Stinging Rose Moth Caterpillar with orange lines
Copyright: James Shelton
(CC BY-NC-SA 3.0)

Adults (moths) have a body featuring combinations of green, brown and yellow. The wingspan is 2.3 to 3.0 cm.

Image of an adult Stinging Rose Moth
Stinging Rose Moth
Copyright: Jim Vargo 
(CC BY-NC-SA 3.0)

Adults begin to appear early in the summer and females lay their eggs in July.The eggs hatch usually nine days later and the larvae tends to hide on the undersides of leaves. They mature around mid-September and they winter as pupa inside a cocoon

Stinging Rose Moth with red-orange stripes
Credit: University of Arkansas

Why the extraordinary coloration?
The coloration of the species is probably a form of aposematism, a warning signal of its poisonous nature. The black-tipped spines [see illustration below] have poisonous glands at their bases. When touched, they break off and release venom inside the skin. Although not lethal to humans, it may cause a hypersensitivity reaction resulting in pain, irritation, skin rash, and other complications referred to as "stinging rose caterpillar poisoning".

Illustration showing the anatomy of the spines the Stinging rose caterpillar features

These beautiful creatures consume the foliage of numerous plants including:
  • Apple
  • Cottonwood
  • Dogwood
  • Hickory
  • Oak
  • Maples
  • Redbud
  • Sycamore
  • Rosebushes

Video of adult Stinging rose

- For more photos of this amazing caterpillar please click here.

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