The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, November 10, 2006


Caterpillar of the Giant Leopard Moth, and Stink Bug

Caterpillar of the Giant Leopard Moth (Photo by Kay Fairweather)

There are giants in Carlisle. Earlier in the year we had the Giant Ichneumon Wasp. Last week's Giant Water Bug is followed by the Giant Leopard Moth which is Hypercombe scribonia, previously known as Ecpantheria scribonia. It is a member of the Arctiidae family, the tiger moths — I'm not sure what a leopard is doing in with the tigers.

When and where seen. Terry Ritz found a pair of these caterpillars at his place on Orchard Acres Drive in mid-October and brought them to me. He has seen more since that date. I also had a couple in my back yard on School Street in early October. You are most likely to notice these caterpillars in fall when they go walkabout in search of a place to spend the winter. They shelter in plant material through the winter in their larval (i.e. caterpillar) stage and don't form a cocoon until the spring. On warmish days in the winter they may emerge and roam for food. I am going to keep these caterpillars over winter in the hope that I will see the moths next year. The moths are nocturnal and seldom seen.

Identification. The giant leopard moth caterpillar looks like an extra large woolly bear caterpillar (another member of the tiger moth family) except that the bristles are completely black. The bristles are dense and clustered into rows of tufts. Younger caterpillars have less dense bristles and are not so thoroughly black. The fully grown caterpillar that you find in the fall can be up to three inches long. The moth is white with black rings and with imagination the markings could remind you of a snow leopard. It has a wingspan of around three inches and its abdomen is metallic blue and orange.

Department of Defense. When the caterpillar feels threatened, it curls into a ball (same behavior as the woolly bear) and displays bright red bands between the body segments. It remains tightly curled until it feels safe. Some bristled and spiny caterpillars can cause skin irritation, but this one is safe to handle.

Food. Some caterpillars are picky eaters and feed exclusively on a single species of plant. Giant leopard caterpillars are more opportunistic and eat a variety of broad-leaved plants. I will try mine on lettuce and cabbage if they need a winter snack.

References. Peterson First Guides, Caterpillars, Amy Bartlett Wright;

Western Conifer Seed Bug aka Stink Bug

Western Conifer Seed Bug (Kay Fairweather)

There are often questions this time of year about the Western Conifer Seed Bugs which you might find in the house or crawling on the outside of the house. They are quite harmless to humans. They won't damage anything in the house — they are just looking for a place to spend the winter. If they fly close by you the buzzing may startle you, but they usually just crawl slowly around looking for a crevice. You can scoop them up gently and release them outdoors. If you handle them roughly or crush them you will learn why they are also called Stink Bugs. See the Mosquito archive of January 25, 2002, for a full description.

Submissions and ideas for the Biodiversity Corner are encouraged on any wildlife in town. Send a note to Kay Fairweather at 392 School Street, Carlisle, MA 01741 or to

2006 The Carlisle Mosquito