Life Cycle: Rearing Caterpillars to Determine Species
Dave Porter - FL

Dave Wagner's field guide dealing with the caterpillars of eastern North America is a handbook for those who would like to help add to our knowledge about moths. Many interesting facts about moths can be illustrated by following a species from the egg through to adulthood. People are interested in knowing the identity of caterpillars and cocoons that they have found, and the great majority of caterpillar species are not yet represented in field guides or on this website. Rearing caterpillars and photographing them as they go through several instars, then as pupae, and finally as freshly eclosed adults (and, if lucky, as mating pairs) can add much to our store of knowledge.

Rearing can be done in small containers, store-bought or improvised, and can begin with eggs, caterpillars or cocoons. The biggest challenge may be in knowing what to feed larvae, but that problem is usually solved by feeding them fresh foliage of the plants on which they are found. If the caterpillar can be identified you can usually find host plant information in the Wagner or Covell field guides or on the Internet at places such as BugGuide.Net.

Your clear photographs will be welcomed here to be used on species pages and, if you wish to write about your experiences, in the Papers and Notes section of this website.

Availability at
  Larva, Cocoon, Pupa and Rearing
5th instar - Machele White Machele White

Machele White found the caterpillar shown at left and placed it, along with a supply of fresh leaves, in an insect rearing container. The caterpillar made a cocoon of spun silk and then molted as it entered the pupa stage, the spent skin adhering to the pupal case. This cat did not use its hairs in making the cocoon. Before eclosure the pupal case darkened considerably. Finally, the adult shown below broke through the case to emerge.

In the northern part of its range the caterpillar overwinters, and there is but one generation per year. In Florida there are multiple broods and Machele did not have to wait long to see the adult eclose.

Machele White

Machele White Machele White

MothTalk/MothTalk021.htm -- 01/15/2007