The jellybean caterpillar brings the whimsy we all need right now


Bec Crew


Bec Crew

Bec Crew is a Sydney-based science communicator with a love for weird and wonderful animals. From strange behaviours and special adaptations to newly discovered species and the researchers who find them, her topics celebrate how alien yet relatable so many of the creatures that live amongst us can be.
By Bec Crew 23 March 2020
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Look at this guy. I want to eat it and pet it at the same time.

IT LOOKS LIKE a Pokemon whose final form is one of those giant jelly baby sculptures that will pick you up and smush you into their giant jelly tummy and suffocate you in a transparent, gelatinous tomb.

Meet the slug moth caterpillar, nicknamed the jellybean caterpillar, the jewel caterpillar, and the real-life gummi worm.

This particular species, which has not yet been classified, comes from the Olona genus of the family Limacodidae, a group of moths notes for their slug-like caterpillar form.

Limacodids are found all over the world, including throughout Australia.

Also known as cup moths, because they build cup-like cocoons that look just like gum nuts, the species you might see in Australia are the mottled cup moth (Doratifera vulnerans), common in Sydney; the painted cup moth (Doratifera oxleyi), common in central NSW, and the pale cup moth (Doratifera pinguis) found all along the east coast.

Limacodid larvae (or caterpillars) come in two main forms. There are the ‘stinging nettle’ caterpillars that look like this species from Borneo:

(Image credit: Charles J Sharp/Wikimedia)

And there are the ‘gelatin’ caterpillars, like our orange friend above, and this guy, which looks like a tiny alien spaceship:

(Image credit: Pong Wira/Shutterstock)

Species from the Olona genus occur in South East Asia and China. They can come in a range of colours, such as orange, yellow, and bright green:

Those little nodules are detachable. When the caterpillar is handled, it will shed them like a lizard sheds its tail, presumably as some kind of distraction.

Here’s one found in Singapore, showing off its adorable suction pad ‘feet’:

Limacodid caterpillars are easily confused with those in the Dalceridae family, found throughout the Americas. Also nicknamed jewel or jelly caterpillars, these guys look equally as delicious with their gelatinous nodules.

We’ll leave you with yet another kind of jewel caterpillar, a ‘bejeweled automaton’ built in 1820. Covered in gold, jewels, and peals, it’s known as the Ethiopian caterpillar, and there ae thought to be just six in existence: