Don’t Scare Me!

Butterflies and moths are often beautiful but their larval stage can look quite scary.

This scary appearance is intentional.  The spines and horns warn off predators that would otherwise eat them.  Unfortunately, this gets caterpillars into trouble with people sometimes.

I vividly remember a summer afternoon when I was about five years old.  I was playing on our back patio when I suddenly noticed a very large, very scary caterpillar.  I backed away from it, screaming and crying.  My dad came over to see what was the matter, promptly killed the caterpillar and comforted me.  "It's OK.  It's dead."

Since that time I've learned to appreciate nature, but I'm still not wild about insects.  I love butterflies and moths and would not kill their caterpillars (except, perhaps, gypsy moth caterpillars), but I prefer to keep a safe distance from the scary ones.

The scary parts are often harmless but without a caterpillar education I don't know when they aren't.  The hickory horned devil (Citheronia regalis), shown above, is perfectly harmless but you have to be sure of its identification before you pick it up.  Look at these photos!

Even with a caterpillar education, it's going to be a while before you see me doing this:

(This is a tobacco hornworm. For more photographs of caterpillars and moths, see Chuck Tague's photo galleries.)

(photos by Chuck Tague)

7 thoughts on “Don’t Scare Me!

  1. I will pick up one of those black/orange ones but when I was growing up I had to do a chore of picking the big green ones from tomato plants & cabbage for my Mom’s garden, still feels creepy thinking about it. I do mind the cicada’s when they come up but catepillars are a special breed. Beautiful pictures tho.

  2. Some of them leave a kind a sting. They actually are furry looking and bristly and can leave your skin irritated. I may be thinking of a wooly bear caterpillar. They are dark brown and black and very furry.

  3. Hmm. I guess I can understand disliking an entire class of animals. I’m a little bit weird, however, I don’t like mammals. I know, I know, I am one, but I honestly can’t stand squirrels, mice rabbits, cats, and many humans. Of course, there are exceptions, I like seeing a mink frisking around in his quest for a rabbit or mouse and I would rather not run across a swarm of mosquitoes, horse-flies, etc. But I honestly have had a love of slimy creepy crawly things ever since I got over my love affair with dinosaurs. So, even though I haven’t had the same experience with insects, I can certainly understand you position.

    P.S. I’m the only one I know who has a favorite species of fly (although I haven’t been able to find out what it’s called)

    P.P.S. I understand that I’m a minority, and that the vast majority of people will shake their heads in disgust/unbelief

    P.P.P.S. I like domestic dogs and otters

    P.P.P.P.S. This is the first time I’ve ever written a post-post-post-post script :).

  4. I’ve never had trouble with wooly bear’s but there is some sort of white fuzzy caterpillar that dive-bombs people during picnics, and I know that they can sting a little. The problem is that they all want to look poisonous to discourage predators, so it’s hard to determine which are safe without a little research. By the way, has anyone else noticed that it’s about a hundred times easier to identify a bird online than it is to identify an insect? I guess it doesn’t help that there are so many more varieties of insects than some of the other classes.

  5. One of my great successes many years ago was raising from caterpillar and releasing as a Monarch. It all happens within a month. Much easier than trying to protect a wooly bear through the winter.

  6. I stepped on a tobacco hornworm when I was 18. It was so gross and the very last time I went bare foot ever! I was sick for a week after this from just the thoughts. ewww!!!!!!!!!!!! So traumatic to a 18 year old.

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