Here at All About Worms, we write about all sorts of worm-like organisms spanning from tiny fly larvae to giant earthworms. While we try not to choose favorites, it is only natural that there are some creatures we like more than others. We especially enjoy writing about caterpillars (a.k.a. moth and butterfly larvae) since there are roughly 20,000 species and they come in all different shapes, sizes, colors, and textures. Today we will introduce our readers to a beautiful yet dangerous caterpillar known as the spun glass caterpillar.
The spun glass caterpillar, known in the scientific community as Isochaetes beutenmuelleri, is found throughout the United States. Sightings have been reported spanning from New York to Florida, and as far west as Missouri, but their range might extend as far as Colorado and Texas. These caterpillars are so delicate-looking with their intricate appendages that they might even be mistaken for Christmas ornaments if you saw them on an indoor festive tree rather than their preferred host plant, the swamp oak tree. They have nearly translucent glassy bodies covered in dozens of crystal barbs. Although beautiful, these caterpillars are quite dangerous. Touching their crystal barbs will result in skin penetration accompanied by a painful sting and various degrees of skin rash. They also release poison from their barbs, which can be deadly to some creatures.
Spun glass caterpillars become less dangerous with age. They often lose their barbs as they mature and get ready to pupate. In a similar fashion, they lose their dashing looks. Although they are extremely beautiful as larvae, the adult moths are incredibly unremarkable. With their plain brown color and tiny wingspan, they generally go unnoticed. Almost like the swan becoming an ugly duckling, rather than the other way around!
If you ever have the pleasure of seeing one of these crystal creatures, by all means, take photos and document the sighting, but whatever you do…don’t touch!!! As we mentioned, these larvae have a dangerous sting that causes extreme discomfort. If any of our readers have stories about seeing (or touching) a spun glass caterpillar we invite them to share below!