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Variable Oakleaf Caterpillar Moth (Lochmaeus manteo)

Detailing the physical features, habits, territorial reach and other identifying qualities of the Variable Oakleaf Caterpillar Moth

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Image Credit: Alex -icycatelf- Bowen
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The extreme variations between individual larvae can befuddle many caterpillar enthusiasts.

Updated: 07/15/2021; Authored By Staff Writer; Content ©www.InsectIdentification.org
The gray moth for this species is plain compared to its larvae. The adult has a reniform spot on each forewing, and each lower, outer edge has a dark patch. Some individual moths are paler than others, and some have more pronounced reniform spots. All produce a wildly inconsistent caterpillar.

Individual caterpillars may look so different from each other, one could think they were different species. Some are bright green with yellow and white stripe on the side of the body and a green head. A bold, diagonal black and white stripe on each 'cheek' is common with this version. Two small orange humps on the upper 'back' complement two small orange humps by the rear. Another variation is pale green and laden with pairs of deep red bumps along the 'back' along with a hair sticking out of them. The white head has dark dots and dashes on it. Some are green with only a handful of paired red bumps. The green head has a diagonal red line on each side, and dark red stripe stretches halfway down the 'back'. The disparity between the caterpillars can make it difficult to identify it. One thing they all have in common is the ability to spray an acidic compound. Touching or disturbing this caterpillar is not advised as the acid can cause blisters and irritation.

Adults are active from mid-spring through autumn, but caterpillars are most often seen later in mid-summer. Though the Variable Oakleaf Caterpillar feeds on oak leaves, it also eats from beech, chestnut, birch, elm, and walnut trees. They are commonly found in deciduous forests.

General Characteristics
Capability, Shape, Texture/Pattern, Benefits, Dangers
Burning icon
Flying insect icon
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Taxonomic Hierarchy
Species Breakdown
Kingdom: Animalia
  Phylum: Arthropoda
    Class: Insecta
      Order: Lepidoptera
        Family: Notodontidae
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          Genus: Lochmaeus
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            Species: manteo
Identifying Information
Size, Colors, Features
Scientific Name: Lochmaeus manteo
Category: Butterfly or Moth
Size (Adult; Length): 20mm to 27mm (0.78" to 1.06")
Colorwheel Graphic Colors: brown; gray
Descriptors: plain; tan; flying; red spots on caterpillar; blister; irritation

Relative Size Comparison
Typical Size Between 20mm (0.8in) and 27mm (1.1in)
Lo: 20mm
Md: 23.5mm
Hi: 27mm
Territorial Map*
U.S., Canada, and Mexico
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Prince Edward Is.  
* MAP NOTES: The territorial heat map above showcases (in red) the states and territories of North America where the Variable Oakleaf Caterpillar Moth may be found (but is not limited to). This sort of data is useful when attempting to see concentrations of particular species across the continent as well as revealing possible migratory patterns over a species' given lifespan. Some insects are naturally confined by environment, weather, mating habits, food resources and the like while others see widespread expansion across most, or all, of North America. States/Territories shown above are a general indicator of areas inhabited by the Variable Oakleaf Caterpillar Moth. Insects generally go where they please, typically driven by diet, environmental changes, and / or mating habits.


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