Friday, February 26, 2010

Carpet Caterpillar

At this time of year, even here in southern Arizona, I am always a bit surprised to find insect activity. Imagine my shock then at finding a caterpillar on my living room floor today. It was a familiar species, but still a bit early I think.

Tucson is landscaped with a plethora of ornamental fan palms, and it is from these trees that my caterpillar came. Known as the “palm flower moth” or “palm budworm,” depending on its life stage, Litoprosopus coachella is a frequent home invader in urban areas.

The mature caterpillars (roughly 25 millimeters in length) crawl off the tree to find a suitable place to spin a cocoon, and this sometimes takes them indoors. High winds will also dislodge them by peeling bracts off the trunk of the tree and sending them flying across the yard and against buildings. Any attached caterpillars will fly away with those botanical missles.

Despite their abundance, and appetite for the blooms of their host plant, the caterpillars are generally considered more of a nuisance than a bona fide pest. They may do minor damage to carpets once they get indoors and chew off fibers to incorporate into their silken cocoon.

The caterpillars are not terribly attractive, being a dusty greenish or pinkish color, devoid of much hair, and can be mistaken for a beetle grub at first glance. Look at the head. The two tiny spots near the corner of its mouth are one set of eyes. Most caterpillars are nearly blind, though, relying on tactile and chemical cues to navigate their world.

The remainder of the head capsule, that round, hardened area at the front, is filled mostly with muscles to operate the jaws. What jaws they are, too! The first time I found one of these, I made the mistake of trying to simply pick it up. I got a nasty nip out of it, and my reflexes sent the poor creature flying across the room. Ouch! Gila woodpeckers and northern mockingbirds are not as easily dissuaded as I, and feed heavily on these larvae.

Unfortunately, this insect does not redeem its appearance much through metamorphosis. The adult moth is equally dull and drab. Well, I suppose beggars (for signs of spring and the company of other animals) can’t be choosers, at least not in February.

15 comments:

  1. It is getting to be that time of year when almost any bug will do.

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  2. I think the moth is kinda pretty.

    The visual of you slinging the caterpillar across the room after it bit you is pretty funny!

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  3. The caterpillar is a bit grub-like, but I actually thought the adult was quite a lovely snowy moth. But then, perhaps I'm a tad biased. ;)

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  4. I have to disagree with your comment on the beauty (or lack thereof) of the adult--but then beauty is in the eye of the beholder, I suppose. Thanks for pointing out the location of the eyes--good information--thanks!

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  5. I have never seen an unattractive insect :)

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  6. Hey thanks! We got one of these ugly critters in our house this morning and were frantically searching to find out what it was! Your site was really helpful.

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  7. Thanks! Similar to Solarservant, we found 3 in our house in Tucson over the last 3 weeks and were also trying to identify them. We had the pinkish variation in our home. Thanks for your help!

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  8. You're very welcome, thank you for sharing your own experience!

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  9. Well, it's June 2014 and I found two of these beautiful caterpillars in the last week in our home in Mesa AZ. One was already cocooned in an inappropriate place in the carpet and had to be taken outside before our curious dogs decided to taste it. We do have couple of big and a few more very small palms in our gardens, so after an hour of searching I think I have the answer to what they are. I'm going to give suitable housing to one on some tissue paper in a a small glass and see whether we can witness its metamorphosis, after which, if successful, we will liberate it to begin the cycle again on the neighbourhood palms.

    Do I have to feed it, or is it packed with rich country goodness sufficient to see it through it cycle?

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    1. If it is already in a cocoon, then it will not feed any more. Good luck with raising it. Should not be a problem to get a moth out of it.

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  10. Thank you for your reply. The first one, the cocooned on that escaped from its cocoon when I tried to pick it up, I released into a non-palm tree in the garden. The one I have now has worked its way between the two plys of a non-medicated Kleenex and seems content. Would it help if I put some carpet fibres in the glass for it to use? I'd like to see it fulfill its cycle.

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  11. Replies
    1. They are not poisonous (to eat) or venomous (stinging hairs) to my knowledge.

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  12. We had a full on infestation of these last year in June, and just today found 3... Here we go again!

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