Caterpillar in my houseplants

Tiger moth caterpillar

If you grow it, they will come. A tiger moth caterpillar is feeding on my indoor succulents. Burro’s tail sedum might not be included in its preferred diet, but this bug is hungry for anything.

We spotted it in our houseplants several weeks ago. At first pale yellow, it shifted to rusty orange.

It’s making a mess, too. We can usually locate it by the pile of frass on the tile floor. Once, when I disturbed the larva, it immediately began producing bright green poop, an alarming if innocent defence.

I hardly know any caterpillars on sight, but this appears to be Spilosoma virginica, or Virginia tiger moth. At this stage it is known as the yellow woollybear, resembling its familiar relative, the woollybearPyrrharctia isabella. They’re members of the tiger moths, named for the bold black-and-white blotches or stripes on the adult wings of some species. But the family name Arctiidae comes from the Greek word for bear. Our visitor, if it keeps eating its breakfast, is destined to become a fat-bodied white moth.

How it got into my houseplants is no great mystery. They’re situated in our breakfast nook. The door onto the deck sometimes stands open for a few minutes. At night while we slip out to look at the moon, a moth might slip in.

These caterpillars are generalists, feeding on grass and groundcovers. Ours prefers to be on the ground. Sometimes it drops to the floor and gets lost for a while. While I’m happy to see it growing and enjoying my succulents, this indoor existence is doomed to misfortune.

Sometimes regular woollybears manage to get into the house. Supposedly they are not difficult to raise. I tried it once last winter. After feeding on greens for a few days, the visitor spun a fragile, half-hearted cocoon, then died.

It’s high time I moved this voracious critter into the garden where it stands a chance of completing its life cycle.


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