A VERY Interesting Caterpillar

I’ve looked occasionally throughout most of the summer for the caterpillars of the red spotted purple butterfly (Limenitis arthemis). One problem was only seeing 4 or 5 of the butterflies.  Then, today’s September 9th search turned up one of the tiny caterpillars!

Like I said, it’s tiny. They have one of the most amazing life history of any butterfly (in my opinion). They use so many defense methods throughout their development.

First the female butterfly lays a tiny white egg at the very tip of the leaf, in this case, a wild cherry tree. (They also use willow and apple.) The teeny caterpillar hatches and eats its egg shell.

Then the caterpillar eats the leaf on both sides of the central vein. The vein gradually curves as it dries. The caterpillar also cuts off leaf pieces and attaches them so they dangle in a ball-like shape. Any movement of the leaf causes the ball to swing, and  attracts the attention of a predator away from the caterpillar. It spends most of its time at the end of the vein and tends to be active later in the day.


The above happened day before yesterday. Tonight, I found another caterpillar in the same tree and the same age as the first!

Notice in the pictures how the caterpillars eat the leaf toward the vein so it leaves a piece of the leaf. These 2 caterpillars are 4-5mm long, and their color’s similar to the central vein.

Many years ago wild cherry trees practically lined the side of the road along my rural property. I spent so much time observing, drawing and journaling the experiences. I learned how the female butterfly knew if she was on the right plant — she tapped the leaves with her 2 front feet. That’s how they smell.

Predation is high among caterpillars. I do so hope these 2 escape detection, and you can experience their development through my blog. My fingers are crossed.


I just checked (September 16) and the second caterpillar I found was gone. The first one had molted and its appearance changed slightly.

With it this late in the summer, I think the caterpillar will overwinter as a caterpillar.


September 18. I just had a scare. I checked to see if the caterpillar survived our strong winds today. No caterpillar. I walked away, sad, and walked back for some reason. There was the little caterpillar moving along the midvein toward the end of the leaf. By the time I got back with the camera, this was my best shot. It was windy and 5 minutes from sunset.

Compare the shape of the leaf in this picture with the picture above.

My fingers are still crossed for its survival!

5 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Therese on September 28, 2012 at 8:39 am

    I repeat myself….amazing! Love the butterfly! Keeping my fingers crossed too.


  2. That’s one little caterpillar … nice find! I love its strategy of misdirection with the leaf ball. I too see the occasional red spotted purple, but I didn’t the details of its larval stages. Thanks!


  3. […]  https://naturesnippets.com/2012/09/28/a-very-interesting-caterpillar/ […]


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