Floridian Nature

Learn about Florida's beautiful and unique nature.

Florida Nature: Creepy Crawly Insects
Stinging caterpillars frequently found in Florida are the puss caterpillar, saddleback caterpillar, Io moth caterpillar, and the hag moth caterpillar. These caterpillars feed on vegetation and have spines which can break off in the skin. When the spines break, a toxin flows from the spines onto the skin, causing a burning sensation.

Io moth caterpillar in FloridaIo Moth Caterpillar
- This is a pale green caterpillar with yellow and red stripes. It often exceeds 2" in length and is fairly stout bodied. The nettling organs are borne on fleshy tubercles, and the spines are usually yellow with black tips. With many-branched spines full of poison, the Io Moth caterpillar is ready for a fight. Eggs are laid in clusters, so earliest instar caterpillars will be seen in bunches. They start larval life a dark brown, and gradually molt from brown to orange, then tan, and finally to this green color. Io moth caterpillars feed on a wide range of plants; however ixora and roses are favorite hosts.

hag moth caterpillar in FloridaHag Moth Caterpillar- This caterpillar is light to dark brown in color. It has nine pairs of variable length lateral processes that bear the stinging hairs. These processes are curved and twisted and likened by some to the disheveled hair of a hag, for which it is aptly names. The hag moth caterpillar is found on various forest trees and ornamental shrubs, but is not as common as the other stinging species.

chiggar illustrationChiggers- Probably no creature on earth can cause as much torment for its size than the tiny chigger. Chiggers or "red bugs" are the larvae of mites belonging to the family Trombiculidae. In humans, chiggers can cause intense itching and small reddish welts on the skin Chigger mites are about 1/20 inch long, usually bright red, have hairy bodies, and travel rapidly. Chigger larvae do not burrow into the skin, nor suck blood. Chiggers attach themselves to the skin, hair follicles or pores by inserting their piercing mouthparts. When chiggers attach to humans, they are not usually noticed for some time. During feeding, they inject a fluid into the skin which dissolves tissue. Chiggers feed by sucking up the liquified tissues.

Florida puss caterpillarPuss Caterpillar- Puss caterpillars are a convex, stout bodied larva, almost 1" long when mature and completely covered with gray to brown hairs. Under the soft hairs are stiff spines that are attached to poison glands. When touched, these poisonous spines break off in the skin and cause severe pain. Puss caterpillars feed on a variety of broadleaf trees and shrubs, but prefer oaks and citrus. In Florida, there appear to be two generations per year, one in spring and the other in the fall. Natural enemies keep these caterpillars at low numbers during most years; however, they periodically become numerous.

saddleback caterpillarSaddleback Caterpillar- The saddleback caterpillar is a very unusual and striking insect. It is brown with a green back and flanks on which is a conspicuous, brown, oval-shaped central area usually bordered with white. The brown spot gives the appearance of a saddle and the green area appears to be a saddle blanket; hence, the common name. It may exceed an inch in length and is stout bodied. The primary nettling hairs are borne on the back of paired fleshy protuberances toward the front and hind ends of the body. There is also a row of smaller stinging organs on each side. The saddleback caterpillar feeds on many plants including hibiscus and palms, and appears to show little host preference.

Florida centipedeCentipedes- Centipedes and millipedes are commonly seen in yards and occasionally enter homes. Centipedes  are many-legged animals and belong to a group of animals called Chilopods. They are usually brownish, flattened animals with many body segments. Most of the body segments have one pair of legs. Centipedes are fast runners and may vary in length from one to six inches. They have one pair of antennae or "feelers" that are easily seen. Centipedes have poorly developed eyes and are most active at night. They are active predators and feed mainly on insects and spiders. All centipedes have venom glands to immobilize their prey. The jaws of the smaller local species cannot penetrate human skin; however, the larger species may inflict painful bites.

Florida pillbugPillbugs and Sowbugs- Pillbugs, and sowbugs are slow-moving, crawling arthropods. They require high moisture and are most active at night. When resting during the day, they may be found under trash, rocks, boards, under decaying vegetation, or just beneath the soil surface. A heavy infestation indoors usually indicates a large population outdoors. Mulches, grass clippings, and leaf litter often provide the decaying organic matter they need to survive. Both bugs are found throughout Florida. They Florida sowbugare wingless, oval or slightly elongated arthropods about half an inch in length and slate-gray in color with body segments resembling armored plates.  Pillbugs or "rolly-pollies" lack the tail-like appendages that sowbugs have and can roll into a tight ball. Sowbugs are often called woodlice and possess two tail-like appendages, seven pairs of legs, and well-developed eyes. They are incapable of rolling into a tight ball.

Florida Earwig bugEarwigs- Earwigs are beetle-like, short-winged, fast moving insects about one-half to one inch in length. Earwigs are usually dark brown and have a pair of pincer-like appendages at the tip of the abdomen. The name earwig is derived from an old superstition that these insects enter peoples' ears. This idea is entirely unfounded because earwigs are harmless to man. Some earwig species have scent glands from which they can squirt a foul-smelling liquid. This is probably used for protection; however, it makes them very unpleasant when accidentally or purposely mashed. Earwigs are active at night. Earwigs usually hide in cracks, crevices, under bark or in similar places during the day. Earwigs are usually scavengers in their feeding habits, but occasionally feed on plants.

Florida wheel bugs can give a nasty stingWheel Bug (Arilus cristatus)- The wheel bug does indeed look like a mechanical device, from its long legs that extend in jerky, robot-like motions to the large cog-like structure on its back that gives rise to its common name. Wheel Bugs are True Bugs classified in the Hemiptera, an order that includes such diverse insects as Stink Bugs, Water Striders, and Bed Bugs. Although the generic term "bug" is bestowed on all sorts of insects, it is scientifically accurate only when applied to True Bugs. Give Wheel bugs a wide birth, their sting really hurts!
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