What The Heck Is It!

marymilkweed(z9 Orlando FL)August 2, 2008

I have a large green caterpillar eating my red penta. It has a set of eye spots and a red tail pinfeather. I know that isn't much to to on, I was heading out to do some shopping and notice this plant was really going down hill. I noticed it over the last few days and blame a large grasshopper for the damage. He was nearby and suffered my wrath! If this doesn't ring a bell with anyone, I will try to get a photo when I get back. Thanks Mary

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misssherry(Z8/9SE MS)

'Sounds like a green tersa sphinx moth caterpillar -

Here's an adult that I raised -

As long as you have pentas, there's a good chance they'll get chewed by tersa sphinx moth caterpillars - it's their favorite host plant.

    Bookmark   August 2, 2008 at 10:37AM
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butterflymomok(7a NE OK)

Last year I raised 6 of these guys on my pentas. They all overwintered and eclosed this spring. They are pretty moths.

This year I planted extra pentas just for the caterpillars, if I find one where I don't want it, I'll move it to my sacrificial plants!


    Bookmark   August 2, 2008 at 10:46AM
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marymilkweed(z9 Orlando FL)

That's him! He is still green. Here in Florida, we have pentas year round and I never had a plant chewed up before. Word must of gotten out that this yard is safe! Thanks, Sandy and Sherry.

    Bookmark   August 2, 2008 at 11:21AM
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They are fun and really easy to raise. I always put them in a container with shredded paper towels and their food, changing it frequently because their frass is "supersized". When they are ready to pupate they will do so within a piece of the paper towel. Wait until the cocoon is hardened well and you can remove it from the cocoon and place it in the container with several sticks (I use wooden skewers, but you can just use sticks from the yard). I imagine they will emerge this year, but you never know. There's always those one or two who will overwinter (leave container outside; don't bring it in or they will emerge too soon when there is nothing for them to nectar on).

Your green cat will probably turn brown as it approaches time to pupate.


    Bookmark   August 2, 2008 at 1:21PM
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marymilkweed(z9 Orlando FL)

After receiving your answers that he is a Tersa Sphinx Moth, he disappeared, both my husband and I searched the small plant, we figured something ate him. But, today he is back and how the brown coloring. He is also huge! I measured him with a small ruler and he is 3.5" in length. Now, my question is this: can I elect to leave him on the penta and just enclose the whole plant with a nylon mesh sleeve or would it be wiser to move the whole plant and all to a caterpillar castle. Because it's Florida, I don't see why he would overwinter, so how long before he ecloses. I'm having a slight housing shortage and hate to tie up one of my large castles.

    Bookmark   August 5, 2008 at 11:37AM
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He probably wandered off to shed his skin. Butterfly and moth caterpillars "molt" about 4-5 times during their caterpillar growth time. When they do this, they often wander off the plant (I think it is to avoid predation because they are very still during this period - no movement at all), and then will return when the molting is complete.

If you want to see what happens, put him in a jar with cuttings of your pentas, some shredded paper towels, and once he is thru eating and is ready to pupate, he will make a little nest in part of the paper towels and begin his metamorphosis into a cocoon. Once the cocoon is completely formed (it will look like a shiny piece of shellacked wood), you can remove the paper towels, put a couple of sticks on the cage and when it emerges, it can climb on the sticks to dry out its wings. It is great to witness the complete metamorphosis!


    Bookmark   August 5, 2008 at 4:38PM
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What else can they eat? I just found an entire litter of them. Probably not enough penta to feed them.

    Bookmark   September 1, 2013 at 4:03PM
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misssherry(Z8/9SE MS)

Their native host plant is buttonweed - pentas are not native, but, unlike just about any other lep I can think of, they prefer the non-native plant, which, in this case, comes from South Africa.

In my picture of the brown and green caterpillars, you can see what buttonweed looks like. Oddly, they used it!


P.S. If you can't find any buttonweed and you've got some buttonbush, you could offer them some buttonbush leaves. They're both in the same plant family, and it's possible they'd eat buttonbush leaves.

This post was edited by misssherry on Sun, Sep 1, 13 at 16:38

    Bookmark   September 1, 2013 at 4:35PM
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2 days ago my kids and I found a tersa sphinx caterpillar on a walk, just yards down the street from our home. We are keeping it to learn about the life cycle from caterpillar to moth, but I don't want to kill the darn thing (Mr. Wiggly, as my four year old daughter dubbed it) and want to make sure I am taking care of it well.

There were some droppings (is that "frass"?) the first day we had it but I haven't noticed any since so I'm concerned it may not be eating. An about.com article said use a little trial and error to figure out what to feed caterpillar and that you'd most likely find its food plant near where you found it. Nothing from our yard seemed to please it so this morning we went to where we got it and gathered an array of plants, but so far no poo.

It seems to be browner than when we first found it and not very active, except for a bit early evening yesterday. Is this normal or am I starving the poor thing?? I will look for buttonweed but is there anything else they will eat? Maybe I'll buy some pentas.

Are there any signs when they are about to pupate?

    Bookmark   September 19, 2013 at 12:28AM
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misssherry(Z8/9SE MS)

I can't remember if they purge before pupating, but they probably do. Still, you'd not likely have seen that. If the cat is full size (3" I think?) it's probably ready to go underground. You could provide it with some clean dirt or leaves and see if it tunnels under them and doesn't come up. Putting these leaves in a clear fish bowl might make it possible to see what it is doing.

It was likely feeding on buttonweed somewhere (the type buttonweed that occurs here likes wet areas) or pentas in somebody's garden. They can travel a good distance when ready to pupate.


    Bookmark   September 19, 2013 at 10:14AM
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Buttonwood and Pentas are in the same plant family (Rubiaceae). This probably accounts for how they fare so well c either as a host plant.

    Bookmark   September 23, 2013 at 3:48PM
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Thank you, Miss Sherry, and I'm happy to report that our caterpillar did successfully pupate! Yay!

    Bookmark   September 24, 2013 at 1:18AM
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Correction: Buttonbush, not buttonwood...

    Bookmark   September 24, 2013 at 8:21AM
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It's Buttonweed, not Buttonbush nor Buttonwood.

    Bookmark   October 23, 2013 at 8:12AM
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