Larger Canna Leafroller / Brazilian Skipper

In my backyard, I have a little cluster of brilliant orange canna lilies. I was admiring them when I noticed that some of the big, flat leaves had a suspiciously chewed look, and some of the edges were rolled over. When I pulled back the rolled-over edges, I found a few of these fat little fellows hiding there! This one is about 3cm long, pretty huge.

This strangely glossy, tapered caterpillar, with two white spots near the tail end and a relatively tiny, dark red head, is a fifth instar larva of the Brazilian skipper, Calpodes ethlius. The adult butterfly is reasonably innocuous and a fairly plain brown, but the larvae are famous for chewing up canna lilies and are known as larger canna leafrollers. A sufficient number eating unchecked on a lily can defoliate the plant in only a few days, so I’m glad I found these guys when I did.

An interesting behavior note: I removed these guys from my plant by sliding a leaf under them so I could pick them up and deposit them elsewhere. When I tried to put the leaf under them, two different individuals responded by moving backwards, waving their tail as though it were their head, so (if I were a predator) I would attack that end preferentially and leave their actual head alone. Kind of cool to watch!

Another interesting behavior note: Since these caterpillars spend a lot of time huddled in the same place on a single leaf, they fire their poop out at high speed, like tiny missiles, so instead of piling up around them it piles up at the base of the plant. I did not get a photo of that.

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