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FLANNEL MOTHS – MEGALOPYGIDAE Although they appear soft and harmless, flannel moth larvae are among our most welldefended insects. Beneath the soft outer hair are warts fortified with hollow, poisonfilled stinging spines that are capable of delivering painful stings. Only four species of this largely Neotropical family extend into our region. The biological station where I work in Costa Rica is home to 15 species; the country has in excess of 40. Caterpillars of one particularly large Amazonian species reach more than 8cm; stings from this behemoth, “el raton” (the rat), have purportedly resulted in human deaths. RECOGNITION Accessory prolegs on abdominal segments A2 and A7 (in addition to normal complement on A3–A6) immediately distinguish our flannel moths. Neither pair of the accessory prolegs bears crochets in our North American species. Three rows of setal tufts (subdorsal, supraspiracular, and subspiracular) bear mixtures of stinging and longer hairlike setae. Look for a fleshy lobe positioned behind each of the spiracles (these are visible in White Flannel Moth image, see page 56). LIFE HISTORY NOTES The eggs are covered with hairlike scales from the female abdomen. Our megalopygids appear to be broadly polyphagous on woody plants. Like slug caterpillars, the head is enveloped by the thorax when the caterpillar is feeding (see image of White Flannel Moth). They overwinter in a dense, grayish, spindle-shaped cocoon often spun along the lower trunk of the foodplant . Adults emerge through a circular operculum at one end of the cocoon. Reaction to the stings may be severe. Even hairs from the body may be problematic for some. Do not leave caterpillars where others, and especially children, might unknowingly handle these seemingly harmless creatures. Until potential symptoms and dangers are better understood, I recommend leaving these caterpillars where you find them. What few collecting and rearing tips I can add for flannel moths appear in the species accounts. 53 Larval development in Black-waved Flannel Caterpillar (Megalopyge crispata) RECOGNITION Orange to gray, densely hairy caterpillar with variously developed middorsal crest of darker setae. Body tapering rearward to wispy tail that scarcely extends beyond body. Larva less than 3cm. Earlier instars bear a wild flurry of long white setae (see top image on page 53). Caterpillars of Yellow Flannel Moth (Megalopyge pyxidifera) indistinguishable to my eye; Pennsylvania south to Florida and Mississippi. OCCURRENCE Fields with woody growth, woodlands, and forests, from Missouri to New Hampshire (especially along coast in New England) south to Florida and Louisiana. One generation northward; presumably two or more southward with mature caterpillars from June onward. COMMON FOODPLANTS Alder, apple, birch, blackberry, cherry, hackberry, oak, persimmon, poplar, sassafras, wax myrtle, willow, witch hazel, and many other woody plants. REMARKS A good way to find caterpillars is to go into fields with widely scattered cherry saplings. Examine the underside of leaves on branches growing within a meter or so of the ground. Coastal meadows and fields are productive in southern New England. Once, while servicing my caterpillar collections, I managed to inhale what I suspect were setae from a Megalopyge caterpillar (or its cast skin). This precipitated a severe reaction: my nose started dripping, then running, but soon thereafter clogged completely. Pressure started to build in my sinus (just on one side), enough to put considerable internal pressure on my eye. About this time I decided to check myself into the nearest emergency room, where I did what most do in emergency rooms—sit and wait. Fortunately, the reaction subsided within an hour, so I discharged myself, and returned home to finish servicing my caterpillar collections. Thereafter, I have been reluctant to reproduce this experience by “reinoculating” myself. 54 BLACK-WAVED FLANNEL CATERPILLAR Megalopyge crispata (= Lagoa crispata) RECOGNITION Densely hairy, gray to tan caterpillar with middorsal crest of rusty to smoky setae. Body tapering rearward to thick tail that extends well beyond body (greater than two body segments). Larva less than 3cm. Middle instar disheveled, with long, often curly hairs extending in all directions and a tangle of rusty and smoky setae over dorsum; pelt considerably sparser— stinging spines visible along sides of body; “tail” setae long but not gathered into bundle (inset below). OCCURRENCE Woodlands and forests from Missouri (historic?) to Maryland south to Florida and Texas. In Deep South it has multiple generations with mature caterpillars from spring onward. COMMON FOODPLANTS Widely polyphagous on woody plants. Covell (1984) lists almond, apple, birch, hackberry, oak, orange, pecan, persimmon, and rose. REMARKS This caterpillar is known locally in Texas and elsewhere as the Asp...


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