Giant Leopard Moths
Last weekend I was setting the chickens up in their playpen when I came across this guy:
I couldn't get him (her?) to open up from this defense posture, but it was easily as big around as my index finger, and curled up it was about the diameter of a half dollar. It has red rings, and, as you can see, a seriously spiky black hairdo.
For the first time ever, my favorite caterpillar identification website let me down. It told me I was looking at a wooly bear, but I know that's not right. (You can see what I mean by checking out a wooly bear photo here.)
Upon further googling, I found that this caterpillar is very similar to the wooly bear, which grows up to become a tiger moth. But my caterpillar is a Giant Leopard Moth, which is even cooler. Check out this photo from Wikipedia Commons:
That guy is prettier than most butterflies, so I decided not to feed it to the chickens. Not that I could have if I wanted to--although I expected it to just stay curled up in a ball all day, when I went back to check on it, it was gone. I read that they like leafy shade, so I think it probably crawled under the beans to get away from the crazy human that kept annoying it on an otherwise beautiful day.
I'll be keeping an eye out to see if we end up with a Giant Leopard Moth in our garden, but it seems unlikely that I'd ever see it. They are nocturnal, and we just aren't out much in the dark now that the temperatures are dropping.
Besides, they only live for a few days--just long enough to reproduce.