Caterpillar ID
May 9, 2013 9:50 PM   Subscribe

What kind of caterpillar is this and does it stand a reasonable chance of metamorphosis if I keep it in a jar in my kitchen?

I found the caterpillar on a plant in my San Francisco backyard. It's insect month at my daughter's preschool so I thought it would be fun to watch it do its thing and turn into a butterfly (moth?). So it's sitting in a glass Ball jar with holes punched in the lid in my kitchen. I added a bunch of the leaves of the plant it had been sitting on and it's been active in the jar since I put it in there yesterday.

Is there any chance it'll actually form a chrysalis and then a butterfly or moth (I have no idea which it is)? What can we do to make sure it has an optimal environment in our house or should we just put it back outside? It also seems like a not insignificant amount of caterpillar poop is accumulating in the jar. Should we clean that out?
posted by otherwordlyglow to Science & Nature (11 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: I guess it looks a lot like this White-lined Sphinx Moth caterpillar. If it is this, it sounds like they need to burrow into the soil to go into chrysallis so perhaps it needs to go back outdoors.
posted by otherwordlyglow at 10:08 PM on May 9, 2013

Best answer: ...I was juuuuust coming in to post that answer.

They sure are beautiful when they're done, though.
posted by batmonkey at 10:11 PM on May 9, 2013

Best answer: Yup, the white-lined sphinx larva needs to burrow to become its beautiful mothy self.
posted by BigJen at 10:28 PM on May 9, 2013

I thought it was a tomato hornworm.
posted by shoesietart at 10:38 PM on May 9, 2013

Best answer: This person posted instructions on raising them.

tl;dr: Feed caterpillar, keep container clean and moist, add some dirt when the caterpillar gets big.
posted by topoisomerase at 5:53 AM on May 10, 2013

Response by poster: Wow! I hadn't thought if just adding dirt! We'll try that.

I looked at pictures of tomato hornworms the other day and didn't find any that really looked right, though it does have the horn.
posted by otherwordlyglow at 7:36 AM on May 10, 2013

Little known bug website - What's That Bug?
For your future bug enjoyment.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 7:51 AM on May 10, 2013

Personal experience for raising them: I took an empty, large powdered lemonade can, put a few inches of loose soil in the bottom and put the sphinx larva and plants on the top. Worked like a charm. After pupation, I carefully sifted out the chrysalis so I could look at it. It's nifty - many sphinx moths have the proboscis in the form of a jug handle instead of flush.
posted by plinth at 6:26 AM on May 13, 2013

Response by poster: So far it's going well. We added a layer of dirt on the bottom and he seems content. We've had to continually refresh his food supply since he seems to have an insatiable appetite and I'm worried that I'll run out of the one plant that I found him on, which we're rapidly depleting!
posted by otherwordlyglow at 9:42 AM on May 13, 2013

Response by poster: Well after a frenetic evening of crawling all over the jar for a couple of hours non-stop, he seems to have disappeared into the dirt. Now we wait!
posted by otherwordlyglow at 9:39 AM on May 14, 2013

Response by poster: Quick follow-up: He hatched! After a month underground, he emerged yesterday. We're not sure when since none of us saw it happen but we checked in the morning and there was nothing but by the evening he was sitting placidly on a leaf. I wish we'd seen him emerge but it was still super cool. I think his wings are almost ready so we'll have a Good-Bye Moth party later today.
posted by otherwordlyglow at 6:47 AM on June 15, 2013

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