Friday, October 10, 2014

Skiff Moth

Yes, it is a caterpillar! - Georgia Pozycinski
I received these pictures from our friend Georgia with the following note.
"Joe found a "new" bug stuck on the side of our dog water bucket this morning. He was stuck to the side, kind of like a slug. Any idea what he is? Some kind of caterpillar?"
Underside - Georgia Pozycinski
OK, time for true confessions.  I guessed a slug and my first attempts to find it failed.  I sent it to my guru Chris Barnhart who immediately nailed it as a skiff moth caterpillar, Prolimacodes badia, of the family Limacodidae.  I guess that is the value of studying in school until you get a PhD instead of an MD.  Anyway the pictures were very convincing.  "This family is incredible!"  in Chris's words.
"If you'd like to see one of the most bizarre, colorful, jaw-dropping, head shaking menageries on earth, Google 'slug caterpillars' images. Some toy company should really make a line of collectibles."
It is hard to imagine this is a caterpillar, but this Youtube video will help you believe when you see it move.  Unlike most caterpillars with tiny hook like feet, slug caterpillars glide along on tiny suckers on their undersides.  They remind me of aerodynamic tanks sliding along with no exposed surfaces.

Measuring just over half an inch long, this caterpillar defines the term "low profile".  It feeds on a wide variety of plants including oak, poplar, willow,  cherry, chestnut, hop hornbeam (Ostrya virginiana), and willow.  There may be 2 generations and they overwinter as pupae. 

Finger lickin' badi - Chris Barnhart
The adult moth is no slouch either, an unmoth-like creature that will come to your porch light but is easily overlooked.  Its name "skiff moth" may refer to the shape of the caterpillar or even to the moth below.


Missouri is at the far western edge of P. badia's range.  Like most insects, there is very little further information on this relatively common creature, adding even more mystery.  Ain't nature wonderful?

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