In my garden I stumbled across several very striking looking caterpillars on the same day, and then a whole aggregation of them clumped together on our milkwood tree. On closer inspection I noticed one caterpillar had white ‘eggs’ on its back. I decided I needed to do some investigation as I was curious to know what the caterpillars would become and to whom the ‘eggs’ belonged.
It turns out that this caterpillar, with its long coppery hairs and a bright pattern on its back in red, black and mauve is a stage in the life cycle of the Cape lappet moth (Eutricha capensis). The moth itself is a subtle furry brown and beige creation, with stripy legs…nothing like the caterpillar, and they don’t have mouth parts so cannot feed! The females have long feathery antennae. The caterpillars on the other hand do have mouth parts and feed on a number of indigenous and alien plants, including the milkwood.
As the Latin name suggests it is to be found in the Cape, but it also occurs throughout South Africa, and in other African countries. No-one has been able to find out why the caterpillars clump together looking like a furry mat draped over a tree trunk but I did find the solution to the ‘eggs’ which can be seen in the third picture. They belong to a wasp which lays its eggs on the caterpillar where they hatch and eat up the caterpillar before going on their way!
If you’re interested these are the main differences between butterflies and moths, bearing in mind that there are always exceptions to the rules. Butterflies are active during the day, rest with their wings closed above their backs, have club shaped antennae and make a chrysalis when they pupate. Moths are active at night, rest with their wings spread, have feathery or saw-edged antennae and make a silk cocoon when they pupate…so know you know!
Caption for Photo’s:
1. Lappet moth caterpillar – Wendy Wiles
2. Cape lappet moth – image Liz Hardman
3. Lappet moth parasite – Wendy Wiles