From Black Caterpillars to Giant Leopard Moths: A Species Overview
Fuzzy, black caterpillars can be frightening creatures to people unfamiliar with moths and butterflies. While it is true that many bristly black caterpillars can trigger an allergic reaction in humans, the giant leopard moth caterpillar is quite content to sit and nibble on a leaf without being a potential risk to anyone.
One of the more impressive moth species, the giant leopard moths come from unassuming looking black caterpillars that are easily missed in the wild. For more information on how these little crawlers live and eventually metamorphose into strikingly beautiful moths, read further.
From Birth to Hibernation
The giant leopard moths begin their lives as small, black caterpillars covered in bristly fur. When they first hatch from eggs, the larvae nourish themselves on the leaves of the plant or tree that the mother moth laid them on.
While still on the host plant, the larvae go through several stages of growth and development that causes them to outgrow their outer skin. The skin is molted, and the baby caterpillars go on eating and gaining strength and size.
As the months get colder and winter begins to set in, the giant leopard moth caterpillar will enter a state of hibernation where it will remain predominantly in stasis until the weather changes again. Depending on the geographic region that the caterpillar is in, it is possible for it to occasionally become active on mild days to engage in more eating and nourishment.
When the winter months give way to spring warmth and fresh blooms, the caterpillars emerge from hibernation with a ravenous hunger. The hungry caterpillar will feed quite heavily and continue to grow until it reaches its peak size.
Once it is fully grown, the caterpillar will molt and shed off its final layer of skin. At this point, it begins looking for the proper place to pupate and form a cocoon to sheath itself in for several weeks.
Once a cocoon is formed around the caterpillar, it remains in there, slowly metamorphosing into a fully grown, adult giant leopard moth. It does not eat during this stage, but instead slowly transforms itself beneath the layers of cocoon that resemble patent leather.
In a few weeks movement can be seen as the newly formed moth busies itself with the daunting task of freeing its body from the pupa confines of the cocoon. As it emerges, it will fan its wings out to allow them to stretch and dry, before taking its first tentative flutters in the world as a moth.
Giant Leopard Moth
Looking at a fully formed giant leopard moth, one would never suspect that it was the product of an odd, 2” black and fuzzy little caterpillar. As stated before, these moths are strikingly beautiful and are quite aptly named.
Their wingspan is approximately 3” at its fullest, and when the wings are spread and away from the body, you can see that the main part of its trunk is a serene, metallic blue with highlights of bright orange. Most of the time, however, this is not visible due to the wings being folded.
Although the body is quite lovely, the wings of this moth are the real prize-winner. The primary color of the wings is a stark, bright white. Adorning the white wings are several black circles, some solid and some just simply hollow rings. The formations and frequency of the circles are indeed reminiscent of a leopard, and the adults are quite a sight to see in the daytime.
Once the moth has found its way in the world, the female of the species will mate one time and deposit a fresh batch of eggs on a tree branch that has enough foliage to support the young larvae once they hatch. Following the depositing of the eggs, the moth will gradually lose strength and pass away, completing the cycle.
Related Resources: Florida Caterpillars