Wow, talk about timing. Shortly after I posted my Bug of the Week yesterday suggesting white-lined sphinx moth caterpillars (Hyles lineata) might be coming soon (see after second ladybug in that post), I got a call that masses of caterpillars are crossing Maricopa Road just South of Riggs Road, near Maricopa, Arizona. I drove right down. I probably should have taken the video camera instead of my still camera, because it doesn’t do justice to how fast these caterpillars were moving.
Unlike the pictures I linked to yesterday, these are mostly yellow and black caterpillars with a greenish head. As with many sphinx moths, the caterpillars have a spike at the tail.
The yellow marks below are where caterpillars didn’t make it across the road. I hope you can make out the yellow squiggles of all the caterpillars that are trying.
White-lined sphinx moth caterpillars vary considerably in color. This one was pale green rather than bright yellow.
Aren’t these beauties?
Check the More About post for an update on white-lined sphinx moths.
- Books About Caterpillars
If all these recent posts about caterpillars have made you interested in butterflies and moths, here are some books where you can learn more.
Books about caterpillars/butterflies for the youngest bug enthusiasts (Toddler):
The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle
Summary: The board book version of this story is a perennial favorite. The story line is fun, the illustrations are colorful and the holes in the pages are magnets for little fingers. We made stick puppet characters and performed the story again and again.
In depth review: As a scientist, I do have to point out one minor misuse of a term. In the end of the book (do I need to say spoiler alert here?) the caterpillar turns into a cocoon and then into a beautiful butterfly. Technically, however, a butterfly comes from chrysalis (or chrysalid), not a cocoon. Cocoons are the silken bags that moth caterpillars form around themselves prior to pupating. I see it as just a sloppy use of a word with a precise scientific meaning.
Eric Carle has been very open about admitting his mistake, although he does talk about an obscure butterfly that actually makes a cocoon. See http://www.eric-carle.com/q-cocoon.html for his response. To be fair, this book is a work of fiction. Caterpillars don’t really eat cherry pie or sausages either. That is part of what makes it so fun. So, go ahead and pick up a copy. You can read it as is, substitute chrysalis or substitute the word pupa if you don’t want to say chrysalis.
Caterpillar’s Wish by Mary Murphy is another colorful picture book about a caterpillar that turns into a butterfly. It is a delightful story about three friends. Bee and Ladybug can fly, but Caterpillar can’t. Caterpillar feels left out until he transforms into a butterfly.
In depth: Once again the author has chosen to call the transitional stage a cocoon. In this case it may be because cocoon is a smaller word, more appropriate for toddlers? (Perhaps authors of children’s books should use the more generic word “pupa.” It is short, easy to say and always correct, regardless of which insect is the subject.)
Inch by Inch by Leo Lionni is an adorable tale of an inchworm that escapes from some hungry birds in a clever way. This book could also be useful as an introduction to measuring.
Waiting for Wings by Lois Ehlert is bright, bold and beautifully done. It traces the life cycle of a butterfly very simply, and then has a bit more in depth information about butterflies and flowers at the end. There’s even a page of information about butterfly gardening.
Ten Little Caterpillars
by Bill Martin Jr. and illustrated by Lois Ehlert
From Caterpillar to Butterfly by Deborah Heiligman, and illustrated by Bari Weissman, is an account of a classroom caterpillar that undergoes metamorphosis into a beautiful butterfly.
Caterpillarology by Michael Elsohn Ross is for children who are interested in science and doing science experiments. This book (and the others in the “-ology” series) are chock full of great information and fun activities. Whereas many children’s books repeat the same information over and over, these books are truly unique and interesting. “Chosen by Science Books and Films as one of the Best Books for Children.” Unfortunately, they are often out of print and may be hard to find.
See our growing list of children’s books about moths and butterflies at Science Books for Kids.
White lined sphinx Caterpillar is crossing the desert in Newberry Springs Ca. Is that an unusual area for them? I have never seen them before.
The white-lined sphinx caterpillars build up during certain years when there are weeds for them to feed on. I have seen adults flying for a few weeks, so it seems likely that is what you are seeing.
We found a small 2-inch sphinx caterpillar eating in a bed of Oenothera speciosa (pink native primrose) in Southern California. Now it’s huge and in a terrarium and very hungry, plowing through lots of primrose branches. Seems more active at night, perhaps dreaming of life as a moth. The five-year-old plans to give it a name. We put 5 inches of clean soil in the bottom of the terrarium which we got from the pet store. Keeping it inside and away from rats, raccoons, skunks, etc.
Isn’t it amazing how much they can eat? Thank you for letting us know.
Its seams all these caterpillars are going West. This is weird. Why?
I am curious: what is the time between the caterpillar hatching out and then going into pupation?
That will vary on food supply and temperature, but roughly two weeks. Lack of food and low temperatures will slow that down.