Giant Leopard Moth (Hypercompe scribonia) is a species of Tiger Moth. I’ve noticed a few sites refer to them as ‘Woolly Bear’ caterpillars but those are in a different genus.
If you’ve lived in Austin for even a short while you’ve probably seen these big black fuzzy caterpillars with the orange stripes or almost red stripes. Often the stripes aren’t apparent until the caterpillar curls up. They can grow up to 3″ long and the moths can have wingspans of over 3″.
Though I usually notice a huge drop off in caterpillar population when the paper wasps show up in spring after their winter hibernation, this is one of the caterpillars that sticks around. Many wasps are voracious caterpillar hunters but I suppose most can’t get through this caterpillar’s long bristles. Tiny parasitic braconid wasps can and so are one of it’s predators. The wasp lays it’s eggs inside the caterpillar. When the wasps hatch they feed on the caterpillar from the inside and then emerge to spin a cocoon on the outside of the caterpillar. Adult wasps hatch from the cocoons and go find more caterpillars to continue the cycle. I found this image of a parasited caterpillar below on Wikipedia.
While not usually considered serious pests they can devour a lot of foliage in short order. It’s too bad because they’re kinda pretty and turn into this beautiful white moth with black circles that look somewhat like snow leopard spots:
I’ve been told many times that they sting and it hurts really bad. They don’t. I’ve heard people call these caterpillars asps. This isn’t an asp. Asps are off-white and even fuzzier. Google images: asp caterpillar
Giant Leopard Moths are nocturnal as caterpillars or moths. The caterpillars eat a wide variety of plants at night and then hide in a dark place close by during the day. They don’t feed as moths though, instead saving their time for mating and laying eggs.
They eat our plants. Our chickens won’t eat em. Our fish won’t eat em. I won’t eat em. I just smush them. Watch out though. Using a rock to smush one I squirted myself with a bunch of green guts the other day.