Caterpillars as Feeders for Insectivorous Reptiles and Amphibians

Discussion in 'Other Animals and Invertebrate' started by Oshkii, Mar 20, 2016.

  1. Oshkii

    Oshkii Subscriber Subscriber

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    I thought it would be worth composing a thread that lists caterpillars and their adult counterparts (butterflies and moths) that are suitable as feeders for insectivorous reptiles and amphibians. I tend to collect wild fodder often and I'm always interested in said species biology. In general, brightly coloured caterpillars and their adult counterparts are toxic or unpalatable to predators, but this is not always the case. Toxicity can be generally linked to the food that the caterpillars feeds on. The bright colours provide a warning to potential predators that the caterpillar species in question is toxic or unpalatable to dissuade physical assault. But sometimes the bright colours are merely bluff.

    Avoid collecting caterpillars that have or may have come into contact with chemicals, pesticides and other such poisons as some caterpillar species are considered pests. But we, as "herp" keepers, can take advantage of these so-called pests!

    In this post I aim to provide the species' common name, scientific name, a photo (generally won't be my own photos) of both the larval and adult forms, and a short, very basic description of their biology. I will also add links for further reading for those interested. If anyone has any input, feel free to post it, discuss it, and I will edit this original post to add to the list (if I'm allowed to do this administrators?).

    If I provide incorrect information, please feel free to correct!

    Common Name: Silkworm, Silk Moth Caterpillar
    Scientific Name: Bombyx mori
    Biology: A common feeder insect that is dependent on humans to survive. The silkworm feeds on mulberry leaves, although there has been anecdotal evidence that they feed on beetroot leaves as well. This has not happened in my experience. The moths are flightless and are unable to feed. They will emerge from their cocoons, mate, and then die.

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    Common Name: Cabbage Moth, Cabbage White Butterfly
    Scientific Name: Pieris rapae
    Biology: Considered a pest. The caterpillars feed on plants from the family Brassicaceae, such as cabbage, cauliflower, and broccoli. The butterflies are able to fly and feed.

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    Common Name: Pasture Day Moth
    Scientific Name: Apina callisto
    Biology: Considered a pest. The caterpillars feed on a range of herbacious plants that include, but are not limited to, capeweed, clover and pigface. In my experience they have also been seen feeding on broccoli and cauliflower. The caterpillars are generally seen in late autumn and early winter, feeding on pasture out in the open. When full grown they burrow under the soil and pupate. These caterpillars are brightly coloured, but in my experience, are safe to feed to herpetofauna. I have seen birds predate on them in the wild. The moths are able to fly and feed, and are diurnal.

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    Common Name: Christmas Moth, Southern Old Lady Moth
    Scientific Name: Dasypodia selenophora
    Biology: This moth, as per its name, is commonly seen around Christmas. The caterpillars are not so easily seen, however. They rely on camouflage and usually only feed at night, and shelter during the day. The caterpillars are seen feeding on a variety of wattles. In my experience, the caterpillars tend to favour newer, softer leaves. The adults are able to fly and feed.

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    Common Name: Horned Worm, Tobacco Worm, Goliath Worm
    Scientific Name: Manduca sexta
    Biology: This species is not available in Australia(?). It is considered a pest. The horned worm is a common feeder insect overseas. The caterpillars are seen feeding on plants of the Solanaceae family. Avoid feeding caterpillars that have fed on the toxic species of the Solanaceae family such as the tobacco plant. Caterpillars fed on tomato plants are safe, however. The adults are hawk moths and are able to fly and feed.

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    Common Name: Australian Grape Vine Moth, Vine Moth
    Scientific Name: Phalaenoides glycinae
    Biology: Considered a pest. The caterpillars are seen feeding on grapevine leaves and other plants such as fuchsias and primrose. The adult moths are diurnal and are able to fly and feed. Although brightly coloured, it's merely bluff. Be warned though that these caterpillars have a rather unpleasant defense behaviour that both people and reptiles can find a bit off-putting! If the caterpillars feel threatened they will often swing their heads and spew forth their stomach contents. Their vomit is harmless, however. I find that organic vineyards are all too happy for you to come and collect them. They're usually seen over the warmer months with around three or more life cycles depending on the weather.

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    Common Name: Vine Hawk Moth, Silver Striped Hawk Moth
    Scientific Name: Hippotion celerio
    Biology: This species occurs throughout most of Australia, and indeed, most of the world. The caterpillars can be highly variable ranging from brown, to green, red, and dark grey. They have eye marks on their abdominal segments and a single spine on their rears. The adults are capable of feeding and flight. The caterpillars feed on a variety of plants such as grape vines, fuchsias, rhubarb, sweet potato, frangi-pani and more.

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    Common Name: Orchard Swallowtail Butterfly, Citrus Swallotail Butterfly
    Scientific Name: Papilio aegeus
    Biology: This species is native to the eastern states of Australia, but not long ago I have seen individuals in Western Australia. The caterpillars are commonly seen feeding on citrus plants, but they're also known for feeding on boronia, cumquat, parsley and more (please refer to further reading). The caterpillars have a unique defense behaviour when if disturbed, especially when being touched on the head region, they rear up and evert a red osmeterium while producing a citrus smell. Earlier instars are brown and white, often resembling bird feces, while older instars are green and white. They have a spiky appearance but overall are soft to the touch. Adults are large butterflies, and are capable of feeding and flight. A truly fascinating species. I haven't had much of an opportunity to test whether they're palatable, but their cryptic camouflage and unique defense behaviours would suggest that they're a favoured food item to predators.

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    Further Reading:
    http://www.peacefulsilkworms.com.au/silkworm-lifecycle
    http://lepidoptera.butterflyhouse.com.au/agar/callist.html
    http://lepidoptera.butterflyhouse.com.au/cato/selen.html
    http://www.butterfliesandmoths.org/species/manduca-sexta
    http://www.ozanimals.com/Insect/Grapevine-Moth/Phalaenoides/glycinae.html
    http://lepidoptera.butterflyhouse.com.au/sphi/celerio.html
    http://lepidoptera.butterflyhouse.com.au/papi/aegeus.html
     
    Last edited: Apr 26, 2017
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  2. pinefamily

    pinefamily Subscriber Subscriber

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    Our beardies almost work on the theme of Predator, "If it bleeds, we can kill it!" Once a moth flew into one our beardie's enclosures when I had it open. She leaped from her rock and caught the moth in mid-air; the Australian cricket team would've been proud.
    Another time, I opened a tub of crickets for the first time, and a small spider fell out. Once again, gone in seconds.
     
  3. Stuart

    Stuart Site Admin Staff Member

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    Awesome post thanks!!
     
  4. Oshkii

    Oshkii Subscriber Subscriber

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    I tend to find (in my experience with my lizards, anyway) that wild fodder is more eagerly accepted in comparison to the regular live food invertebrates. They even appear to prefer bush crickets over regular crickets, even though they are almost practically the same. I am thinking perhaps it's the smell or taste?

    Thanks Stuart, will try and add more species as I go along or as I discover them while I'm out and about. I don't think I'm able to edit my original post anymore, however. Nor add more photos.
     
  5. Oshkii

    Oshkii Subscriber Subscriber

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    Added a few more species to the original post.
     
    Last edited: Apr 26, 2017
  6. alex.snaith

    alex.snaith Active Member

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    So which ones are good to feed/easy to get?!?!
     
  7. Oshkii

    Oshkii Subscriber Subscriber

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    All species mentioned above are safe to feed, unless stated otherwise.

    With exceptions of the Orchard Swallowtail Butterfly and the Horned Worm, I have personally used the mentioned above species as feeders for my own animals with no side effects. I have not gathered enough Orchard Swallowtail Caterpillars to trail their suitability, but I have observed many predators preying on them so I would say they're safe to use. As for the Horned Worm, it does not occur in Australia. Many keepers overseas use them as feeder insects, but only those that have not fed on toxic species of the Solanaceae family such as tobacco. Those fed on tomato plants, however, are safe.

    As for which species are easy to acquire? I can't really answer that question for you. It depends on your circumstances and the area that you live in. Silkworms can be purchased at pet stores. The other species can be found only if you go out and search for them.
     
  8. pinefamily

    pinefamily Subscriber Subscriber

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    I wish I'd remembered this thread yesterday. I pulled two cabbage moth caterpillars from my cauliflowers and disposed of them before they did any more damage. If I had remembered this I could have fed them to our beardie. I don't use chemicals on the vegetables at all.
     
  9. Iguana

    Iguana Well-Known Member

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    Silkworms are great because they have the most amount of protein compared to crickets/roaches/meal worms ect, they're just so damn expensive, and hard to maintain.
     
  10. Aussiepride83

    Aussiepride83 Active Member

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    At AFT we have always recommended silkworms as a suitable insect feeder for turtle food for their high calcium content. My turtles love them. Breeding them is easy and it pays to have a mulberry tree in your back yard.
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  11. pinefamily

    pinefamily Subscriber Subscriber

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    They ARE eating machines. Bought a few once from a breeder in Adelaide, luckily she had a mulberry tree to grab some leaves. Ran out of leaves before the lizards ate them all, so that day they had a feast.
     
  12. Oshkii

    Oshkii Subscriber Subscriber

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    I've been having a little bit of trouble breeding my silkworms. They hatch too early before the mulberry trees have leaves. They grow, breed, and that's it until next season. Is there anyway to have several generations throughout the warmer months? How can you stay their hatching until there's food for them?
     
  13. pinefamily

    pinefamily Subscriber Subscriber

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    Are there any specially formulated foods to replace the mulberry leaves?
     
  14. Scutellatus

    Scutellatus Active Member

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    Freeze some mulberry leaves from last season. If you pack them into a container so that there is no air space they should keep well. Make sure when you feed them the leaves are not overly wet from freezing or the silkworms may get diarrhea. You can also buy or make silkworm chow that comes powdered and you mix it up but isn't as nutritious as mulberry leaves.
    As with many animals if you can replicate their breeding season requirements then they should breed. Being in Western Australia it may be hard to attain the cooler temperatures though
     
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  15. Oshkii

    Oshkii Subscriber Subscriber

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    Believe me. It gets fairly cold in the Great Southern, with daytime winter temperatures averaging between 11-14°C. I do have chow, but I find that the silkworms grow faster and bigger on fresh mulberry leaves. Is there no way to manipulate them to hatch until the trees have leaves?
     
  16. Aussiepride83

    Aussiepride83 Active Member

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    You're supposed to keep the eggs in the fridge until you want them to hatch...

    Silkworm tug o' war!
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    Last edited: Nov 11, 2017
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