We just received the classic question from one of our readers, “What is this worm?” He also shared a picture of the specimen, which is a little blurry but still shows a lot of detail. The creature is a reddish-brown color with a lime green band across its body (it almost looks like it is wearing a lime green vest!). It has two white eyespots on its head and several spiky thorns coming from its body:
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We are confident that our reader has discovered a saddleback caterpillar! The saddleback caterpillar (also known as Acharia stimulea larva or limacodid moth larva) is known for its distinct bright color patterns. The caterpillar has aposematic color patterns, which means that its bright color is used as a defense mechanism to warn predators that it is toxic. The saddleback caterpillar also uses its urticating spines as a defense mechanism, which cause a stinging or tingling sensation when touched (that’s what ‘urticating’ means).
The saddleback caterpillar is native to the eastern United states. Since it can survive in northern temperate areas and warmer southern environments, it is found as far north as New York, as far south as Florida, and as far west as Texas. In addition to its widespread habitat, this caterpillar also has a large variety of host plants! Some of these host plants include maple, sunflower, artichoke, pecan, hackberry, and sweet corn.
We aren’t sure where specifically our reader found this caterpillar, but we recommend he not touch it with his bare hands! Its urticating spines can cause a painful sting that might need medical attention! We recommend he use a bag or large spoon to place this caterpillar back outside!
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In conclusion, a reader sent us a photo of a bright green and brown caterpillar. We identified this specimen as a saddleback caterpillar, which is found all across the eastern United States.