10 January, 2016

Giganimous Caterpillar

A couple of days ago, our neighbor, Denis, and I were moving some plastic chairs, our wheelbarrow, and other debris out of the first bay under our parking palapa. All that effort was so that we could re-position the clotheslines from the third bay to the first. As Denis moved the tarp, out popped this fellow:
Found Under Our Parking Palapa
If he looks big in the photo, it's because he is big. Real big. Stretched out in the photo below, he's a good six or seven inches long, and he's got a good three-quarters to one-inch diameter to his girth. Not something you'd just casually pick up and examine closer without a clue as to what he was.
There's A Good 6- or 7-Inches
We were completely clueless about this guy. Going on the premise that in the tropics at least, colorful might mean deadly or worse, we were in no hurry to touch this bad boy.

We gently poked and prodded (as you do), which only served to piss him off a bit. When I rolled him over onto his back so we could see his light blue underbelly, he would flip back upright faster than you could follow with the naked eye. His speedy movement almost looked like a magic trick, it was so fast.

Feeling a need to move on with our project, we borrowed a shovel from the workers building our pool house addition, scooped him up and deposited him onto a pile of old thatch from the palapa that was just laying on the ground in the corner of the palapa.

I tried several times to look him up on the Intertubes, to no avail. I thought I had used a Website some months ago to identify some other critter that we found in our yard, but I was having trouble remembering what the site name was.

Eventually, it came to me. What's that bug? No, that's it. The site name - What's That Bug?
( It's a cool Website with a lot of information about bugs. They encourage you to ask about a bug, or in this case, a caterpillar, that you're interested in. They want to know some basic information about the bug, like where it's located, you can include photos, etc. 

Here's what I submitted:
Subject: Unknown Caterpillar
Location: Corozal, Belize, Central America 18° 22'29.81"W 88° 23' 59.71"W
January 9, 2016 3:25 pm

Hi Bugman,

The other day, we were working under our parking palapa, and upon moving a tarp, out popped this fellow. He's about 3/4" to 1" in diameter, and when extended, abut 6" to 7" long.
We've lived here for nine years and have never seen one like him, or even close. If you could identify him for us that would be super.
Thank you.

Signature: David Rider
Of course, I included the photos above.

Here's the answer I got back about an hour later from Daniel Marlos, a real bugologist, or, entomologist:

Dear David,
Your submission is quite timely, because we just posted an image of an adult Fig Sphinx. Your Fig Sphinx Caterpillar represents one color variation for this variable species, and we are surmising there is a fig tree in the genus Ficus somewhere near your parking palapa.
And, so now we know. Our caterpillar is a Fig Sphinx Caterpillar. And, yes, there is a fig ficus tree within about fifteen feet of the parking palapa. It's the topiary tree that our previous caretaker, Cody, used to try to trim into the shape of a peacock, or ostrich, or something.

The Website also told us that ours is the caterpillar of the Ficus Sphinx, a large moth.  It appears to be pre-pupal, meaning it probably left its food plant to search for a place to undergo metamorphosis, usually among leaf litter. Which is exactly what it found with the old thatch under the palapa.
Old Thatch Providentially Positioned
Wouldn't you just know it. We lost the Intertubes thanks to Smart for the rest of the day (till around 7:30 PM) shortly after making this post. Around 11:30 AM, or so, Denis and I began work once again on the new clothesline, tightening up all the clamps and stuff that was holding the line together.
New Clothesline Being Hung
While we were doing that, we joked about not wanting to step on the old thatch underfoot in the palapa, as we didn't want to squash our new friend, the big orange caterpillar. Which led us to go over and look at the ficus topiary tree, just across the parking area.

Guess what we found? That's right. Several more big caterpillars, none as brightly colored as the original, but all of them happily munching away on the ficus tree.
Bluish-Green Fig Sphinx Caterpillar in the Ficus Tree
What's cool, is if you're quiet when you're looking for them, as they eat, they click. That's right. They sound just like a little clock ticking away. It makes them quite easy to find.
Fig Sphinx Caterpillar Happily Munching in the Ficus Tree
We found several. There was one I missed. It was a black, grey, and white, one that looked like he was made out of birch bard, as I had had to run upstairs to get my camera, and by the time I got back, I couldn't find him again. Still, these guys are pretty cool.
Green Fig Sphinx Caterpillar in the Ficus Tree
If you visit the What's That Bug Website, you can also easily find a link to Daniel Marlos' book: The Curious World of Bugs: The Bugman's Guide to the Mysterious and Remarkable Lives of Things That Crawl. It's available on (Where else?) Amazon in hard cover, paperback, and Kindle. I just bought a used hardcover copy of the book on Amazon, for $2.95 US.

And since Daniel probably didn't get a dime from my book purchase, maybe someone will click on the link to buy a Kindle edition to help.

There's also a link at the top of the Web page where you can donate to help What's That Bug? keep providing timely information on all the critters we find crawling around us.


Wilma said...

Love that electric blue underbelly shining out in the second shot!

Dave Rider said...

Hi Wilma,

Isn't that just the coolest, almost a light electric blue? I wish the caterpillar had cooperated on laying on his back.

I'm going to check out the ficus again this morning to see if I can find some other colors of caterpillar. I'd like to find that birch bark one again.