Garden Talk

with Rebecca Jordi


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Q: Can you identify this caterpillar? I found it under my redbud tree.

Tolype velleda larva

Tolype velleda larva

Tolype velleda moth

Tolype velleda moth

A:  I have not seen this large caterpillar before, so I called an entomologist at the University of Florida who identified it as the caterpillar of the Large Tolype moth.  The two – three inch caterpillar can be found feeding on the leaves of apple, ash, birch, elm, oak, plum, and several other trees.  The first thing you will notice about the Large Tolype adult moth is the white to grey hairy body. The moth grows from 1 – 2.5 inches long. The Large Tolype moth is a very striking moth with variations of color from white to black and grey – love to have one in my collection.  The Large Tolype moth can commonly be found from as far north as Nova Scotia south to central Florida, and westward to Minnesota, Nebraska, and Texas.

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Q: What is this caterpillar eating my parsley?

Black Swallowtail caterpillar

Black Swallowtail caterpillar

A:   Thank you for sharing the photo. This is the larvae or caterpillar of the Black Swallowtail butterfly.  The black swallowtail larvae are often confused with the monarch butterfly caterpillar as the colors are quite similar. However, if you look closer you will notice distinctive differences in the yellow and black markings of the two caterpillars. On the black swallowtail caterpillar, the yellow coloring breaks up the black whereas on the monarch the yellow and black seem to form more straight bands. Once you see them side by side you will never make the mistake of confusing them.  It is interesting how different both of the caterpillars look from the adult butterfly.  You would think the adult butterfly would at least keep the same color as the caterpillar – yellow, black and green.  However, the monarch butterfly develops into an orange and black butterfly while the black swallowtail is almost completely black.  Nature never ceases to amaze me.

Monarch Caterpillar

A:   Thank you for sharing the photo. This is the larvae or caterpillar of the Black Swallowtail butterfly.  The black swallowtail larvae are often confused with the monarch butterfly caterpillar as the colors are quite similar. However, if you look closer you will notice distinctive differences in the yellow and black markings of the two caterpillars. On the black swallowtail caterpillar, the yellow coloring breaks up the black whereas on the monarch the yellow and black seem to form more straight bands. Once you see them side by side you will never make the mistake of confusing them.  It is interesting how different both of the caterpillars look from the adult butterfly.  You would think the adult butterfly would at least keep the same color as the caterpillar – yellow, black and green.  However, the monarch butterfly develops into an orange and black butterfly while the black swallowtail is almost completely black.  Nature never ceases to amaze me.