Questions from the trail: Is that a Caterpie?

Great guess, but this is actually a real-life spicebush swallowtail (Papilio troilus) caterpillar!

Josh and I couldn’t believe our eyes when we saw this little guy by our campsite on the Appalachian Trail recently, and I am still in awe at how cartoony it looked even from just a few inches away.The Pokemon character Caterpie, courtesy of the community at www.bulbagarden.net

The caterpillar looks so much like Caterpie, a Pokémon, that we think the artists must have based their character on this real-life species!

We had no idea what kind of insect, worm, alien, or other life form it was, but the caterpillar’s identity did not remain a mystery for long. A friend and I went to a Monarch butterfly tag and release event at the Hudson Highlands Nature Museum, and one of the educators was able to identify it immediately as a spicebush swallowtail caterpillar by the prominent eyespots and coloring.

Friends in the eastern half of the US have probably seen the beautiful butterflies these guys transform into:

Spicebush Swallowtail Butterfly Carvers Creek SP NC 0981

Spicebush Swallowtail Butterfly at Carvers Creek in North Carolina, courtesy of bobistraveling on Flickr

 

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