Evening after the Photography workshop on 6th Dec 2009 I was tired from all the presentation and talk which happened at the workshop. Having taken bulk of the topics and over 8 sessions my throat was aching. We had 32 very nice enthusiastic youngsters who attended the workshop.The interaction was great and we all learned a lot about photography from each other. When I returned to my in-laws place at Bondel, Mangalore, I was eagerly greeted by my daughter who showed this plump green caterpillar which she sighted on the flowering bush in their garden. She had seen the similar caterpillar earlier at her school backyard and wanted to know the identification. There were 3 caterpillars on that Crape jasmine (Tabernaemontana divaricata) plant. They were caterpillars of the of the oleander hawk-moth.
The Oleander hawk-moth, Daphnis nerii (Linnaeus, 1758), one of the most widely distributed species of sphingid in the world, is known to occur in Africa, southern Europe, Arabia, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Nepal, Thailand, Yunnan (south China), Hong Kong, Taiwan, the Philippines, Sumatra, Peninsular Malaysia, and North Borneo, and has been introduced to southern Japan, Hawaii, and Guam. Its vernacular name refers to the oleander, Nerium oleander (family Apocynaceae), on which its larvae feed, among other members in its family of poisonous, laticiferous plants. Incidentally, the Oleander was also first described by renowned Swedish naturalist, Carolus Linnaeus in 1753. I had the great opportunity of photographing this moth earlier which I documented on this website here and here.
Entire body of this caterpillar was a pleasant apple green, with a straight, dorso-lateral row of small, aqua-marine dots from its second to seventh abdominal segments, with a chalky white, longitudinal band immediately above this. There was also a scattering of distinct, white dots from its first to fifth abdominal segments. Its spiracles were jet black, outlined with white. On its third thoracic segment, there was a prominent pair of ocelli (A marking that resembles an eye), consisting of an outer, Dark Blue ring with a whitish blue center, clearly advertised when its defensive posture (head tucked under) was adopted.
Its tail horn was relatively short and had a rounded tip. There was a sparse distribution of low, short spines over the entire tail horn, which was largely citrus-yellow. It was voraciously feeding on Crape jasmine leaves and excreting large greenish black pellets. Since it was dark we decided to visit and photograph it next day.
Next day morning when we went to visit the caterpillar again we just couldn’t find any apple green caterpillar. Previously apple-green body had transformed to a dirty orange on the flanks and an olive-brown on the dorsum. A symmetrical pair of round, black patches had also appeared on the top of its first thoracic segment, just posterior to its head.
The thick rings of its false eye spots had darkened to a black outline. The yellow of its posterior tail horn had now darker orange. This was pre-pupal metamorphosis of the caterpillar. What we saw yesterday was the final instar version of this caterpillar.As we were observing the caterpillar was descending to the ground. Then it dropped to the ground and started burrowing deep into the soil to pupate. I did not disturb its path and let it continue. In another 10days I was sure it is going to emerge out of its pupa and brilliantly colored oleander hawk moth which I had previously documented on my website.
Descriptions and illustrations of the larva and pupa of the oleander hawk-moth were provided previously by Bell & Scott (1937), with more recent works by Pittaway (1993) and Pittaway & Kitching (2009). Throughout its broad geographical distribution, the combined list of documented larval host plants for the oleander hawk-moth comprises no fewer than 32 genera in 12 families, clear indications of a polyphagous diet. However, there appears to be a strong preference for plants in the family Apocynaceae, with at least 17 genera (more than half) recorded. A most probable advantage of consuming potentially poisonous plants in this family would be the chemical defense that the larvae would be able to derive from them. For example, the leaves and other parts of the oleander contain a potent concoction of cardiac glycosides (cardenolides), such as oleandrin, which can cause nausea, vomiting, weakness, irregular pulse and decreased heart rate. The oleander has even been responsible for occasional fatalities in humans. Thus the plants in the Apocynaceae would confer the larvae considerable deterrence against a variety of predators.
- Beck, J. & I. J. Kitching, 2008. The Sphingidae of Southeast-Asia (incl. New Guinea, Bismarck & Solomon Islands).Version 1.5. http://www.sphin-sea.unibas.ch/.
- Bell, T. R. D. & F. B. Scott, 1937. The Fauna of British India, including Ceylon and Burma. Moths. Volume V. Sphingidae. London.
- Inoue, H., R. D. Kennett & I. J. Kitching, 1997. Moths of Thailand, Volume Two Sphingidae. Chok Chai Press, Bangkok.
- Jarvis, C., 2009. The Linnaean Plant Name Typification Project. The Natural History Museum, London. http://www.nhm.ac.uk/research-curation/research/projects/linnaean-typification/.
- Pittaway, A. R., 1993. The Hawkmoths of the Western Palaearctic. Harley Books, in association with the Natural History Museum (London), Essex.
- Pittaway, A. R. & I. J. Kitching, 2009. Sphingidae of the Eastern Palaearctic. http://tpittaway.tripod.com/china/china.htm
- Robinson, G. S., P. R. Ackery, I. J. Kitchi HOSTSA Database of the The Natural History Museum, London. http://www.nhm.ac.uk/research-curation/research/projects/hostplants/
- Stewart, A., 2009. Wicked plants. Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, North Carolina.
- van Wyk, B.-E. & M. Wink, 2004. Medicinal Plants of the WorldAn Illustrated Scientific Guide to Important Medicinal Plants and Their Uses. Times Editions-Marshall Cavendish, Singapore.
- Wasfi, I. A., O. Zorob, N. A. Al Katheeri & A. M. Al Awadhi, 2008. A fatal case of oleandrin poisoning. Forensic Science International.
- Wee, Y. C., 2005. Plants that Heal, Thrill and Kill. SNP International, Singapore.
17 thoughts on “Metamorphosis”
i found it on the grass in front of my house and when i looked it up i found out that it was a HAWK MOTH CATTERPILLAR and i was very shocked ………!!!!!!!! but now since i know what it is im not shocked any more
Dear Jade Torres,
Glad to hear that my article saved a Hawk Moth Caterpillar from a shocked Homo sapiens (Latin: “wise man” or “knowing man”) 😉
We were observing ( me, my 2 year old daughter and her 6 year old cousin! ) for last few days and this evening we found the cute green worm has changed to yellowish hue. And by night it was almost orange and black! So to see the pupa and the butterfly coming out of it, we kept it in a jar with some leaves. Now I got to take it out ? And it’s a moth ??? Too bad the kids who was waiting to see the most beautiful butterfly born in front of their eyes are in for a huge shock :/
Nice it may be the oleander hawk moth. It is a moth and a beautiful one too. It will pupate for around 20-22 days. Don’t take it out. Usually they pupate very early in the moring. Watch them and once it is out of the pupa, release it in wild. Thanks for sharing 🙂
Thanks, Giridhar Kamath, Arindam Saha for your compliments. In case you find some errors or problems while browsing my blog, please let me know.
Hi Dr. Mohan,
Glad to see your work.
I wish to tell an observation done by me in my childhood.
The Caterpillar of this moth always eat flowers of Oleander in addition to new leaves.
They get the color of the flowers due to accumulation of color pigments. If it lives on red flower tree it becomes a red colored and in white flower tree you can see it in light green. I think this is a nice way of camouflaging.
I gave more on this here in my blog : http://chinwiwork.blogspot.com/2015/05/camouflaging-techniques-of-nerium-moth.html
Thank you for the nice images.
Dear Mr. Chinwi,
I appreciate your opinion. Many thanks for contacting me. I and many of our scientific friends have raised and observed these moths, both in wild as well as in captivity. They don’t eat any flowers. The caterpillars feed on oleander leaves which contains the toxic product which they accumulate within their body. Just to prove this particular caterpillar was on a yellow oleander tree. And as you can see the caterpillar is not yellow. They did not eat any of the flowers of that tree, but fed only on the leaves.
Newly hatched oleander hawk-moth larvae are three to four millimetres in length, bright yellow, and have a black, elongated
Thankyou for this detailed information on the Oleander Hawkmoth Caterpillar. Presently my garden and the adjoining olive grove here on Rhodes, Greece has many of these. I have a hedge of some 40 or so oleanders and guessed this is what the caterpillars are. Sadly my cats keep catching them and some are injured.
I am now looking forward to watching for the moths to emerge.
Wow… just found one of those wee beasties, huge!
FOUND MANY OF THEM IN MY FRONT YARD..ARE THEY VENOMOUS. MY DOG KEEPS DISTURBING THEM. THIS GUYS FLINCHES FOR A COUPLE OF SECONDS AND STARTS MOVING AGAIN…
No they are not venomous they will become beautiful moth in few days. The flick is their only way of defense. Don’t let the dog eat it as they would have eaten poisonous plants which makes the dog vomit. Live happily with sharing and caring them
Thanks for contacting me
Beautiful shots Krishna,
was quite a surprise what the Caterpillar transforms into, the Oleander Hawk Moth is absolutely stunning as is the Caterpillar. Haven’t got to that stage yet though. Found in Indonesia….
All the best
I found many of then on our neighbors backyard and as I observed one them are vomiting, and the way that particular caterpillar poop it’s not solid like others because it has some liquid on it, then the next day it’s still alive but it’s kind weak. I want to do someting but I don’t know how because the next morning the caterpillar died, so I want know what happen.
I found many of them on our neighbors backyard and as I observed one them are vomiting, and the way that particular caterpillar poop it
Dear Dr.Mohan, lovely pics i must say. The caterpillar of the Oleander Hawk Moth on my Nerium oleander plant (which was in full flower) in my terrace garden, i observed did eat all the flowers ( almost whole flower, would leave behind some remainder of a petal at the bottom of the plant ) & emerging buds & new shoots too…It also accepted leaves from another plant variety of pink oleander, top shoot cuttings of which I tied to my plant as my plant was fast getting short of fresh leaves & the single caterpillar was not feeding on the older hardy leaves…fortunately there are many oleander plants in my vicinity. Unfortunately i have not recorded its behaviour to provide the proof..the barren plant bereft of all flowers &buds & shoots, is only proof. Today it has pupated.
In your photo journal you mention that in another 10 days the Moth will emerge but in your replies you mention 20-22 days ?..please let me know as I would like to be prepared to witness the emergence of this glorious Moth. Once again thank you for lovely pics & info on this beautiful Moth.
Saw this beautiful creature today in CLG yard …thanks for the information
Hello! This a very interesting & detailed documentation of this caterpillar. I chanced upon it while searching for answers for why are there so many colors/morphs of this Caterpillar. I have pics of these in 4 colors – light green, yellow, orange-brown & olive green.
I tried placing the latter back on the host plant (to save it from getting squished by passersby) but it soon fell off & wasn’t interested in sticking around. So I thought it was perhaps ready to Pupate.
What do I need to provide it with for pupating (at home)? For Tobacco Cutworm & Lily Moth Caterpillars, I placed an inch or bit more of soil in a jar to see them Pupate. Will they do so even in absence of soil?