Sometimes when you are out walking in the park you get lucky and find a nice surprise to photograph. That was what happened one summer day when I found this pandora sphinx moth caterpillar in the Minnesota Valley NWR. The pandora sphinx moth is a large moth that is native to the eastern half of the United States. Here in Minnesota we are on the western and northern edge of the range so they are all that common.Since the moths are usually not active until dusk you are much more likely to find them in their larval form. Eggs are laid singly on the leaves of the host plant, which includes grape vine and Virginia creeper. The eggs usually take about a week to incubate and the young caterpillar then begins to eat. They can be either red, like this one, or green in color.
As they grow the pandora sphinx moth caterpillar will shed its out grown outer skin. They have 5 different stages of growth, called instars, as a caterpillar. I believe that this caterpillar was in one of the later instar because the anal horn, that they usually have in their early stages was not visible. Soon this caterpillar will makes its way down to the ground where it will dig itself an underground chamber where it will pupate. When I got close to the caterpillar to get a close macro it demonstrated its defense mechanism and withdrew its head and first two thorax segments into the enlarged third section of the thorax, sort of like a turtle hiding in its shell, so I took a couple of shots and then left it to its business.