“What caterpillar is this?” is all this reader writes in her submission about the creature photographed below. The critter in question appears to have a light green body with clear segmentation and white polka dots, as well as an interesting-looking head that resembles a crown.
The caterpillar our reader found is a dragonhead caterpillar. Excuse the colloquialism, but this caterpillar is quite ‘metal’; its otherworldly appearance may remind one of a Lord of the Rings character or an alien.
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The dragonhead caterpillar belongs to a group of butterflies known as Charaxinae (an equally awesome name), which is a subfamily of the leafwing butterfly. This subfamily comprises over 400 species of dragonhead caterpillars! They are found in temperate environments, and have been spotted all over North America, Europe, China and Australia.
We think that the dragonhead caterpillar our reader found is specifically the Charaxes brutus, due to its blue-tipped, short prongs which are characteristic of this species. The adult butterfly is black, white and brown and is known for its impressive flight speeds; supposedly, they can reach 40 miles per hour. Additionally, although the adult butterflies feed on flowers and fruits, the caterpillars tend to stick to forest plants such as mahogany, ash, ackee and Chinaberry trees.
Now, despite their epic, or sinister, appearance (depending on who you ask), these guys are not seriously harmful to humans. That said, the appendages on their heads are not there only to scare off predators. Being pricked by a dragonhead caterpillar’s horns can cause a rash, as well as stinging sensations, so we advise caution if and when handling one.
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However, it should be stressed that they do not cause any real harm, so they must not be treated as a threat; as these are butterfly caterpillars, it is extremely important that they are left alive, as butterflies play a vital role in pollination. For these reasons, we advise that our reader simply take this caterpillar outside. If she is near a forest, then depositing the caterpillar there would be even better. Due to the aforementioned horns, we suggest that our reader scoop up the caterpillar (gently) using a dustpan, so as to avoid touching it.
In conclusion, the caterpillar our reader found is a dragonhead caterpillar, specifically the Charaxes brutus. There is not a lot of information about these spectacular critters, but but we hope that the brief look we gave at them proves insightful. The Charaxes brutus is not harmful, so our reader needs not worry for her health or safety. We wish her the best!