Okefenokee Zale Moth Caterpillar

Okefenokee Zale Moth caterpillar. Photographed on the Suwannee River Middle Fork canoe trail in Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge, Georgia. May 4, 2020. ©www.williamwisephoto.com. Please don’t steal my images. Download and use legally at Dreamstime.com.

How cool. I had no idea that the Okefenokee had its own moth! And I wasn’t even on the lookout for this little critter when I found it.

My daughter and I were paddling north up the Suwannee Middle Fork (red trail) from Billy’s Lake. The run is usually quite wide, but at some points can require some careful steering around Cypress buttresses. On one of those maneuvers around the base of a cypress tree, I grabbed onto a stump to try to swing the canoe a bit so my daughter, sitting in the back, wouldn’t crash into the fetterbushes. As I held the stump, just a few feet from my face I caught a glint of orange, black and white.

Okefenokee Zale Moth caterpillar. Species of owlet moth. Conservation status imperiled. Photographed on the Suwannee River Middle Fork canoe trail in Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge, Georgia. May 2020. ©www.williamwisephoto.com. Please don’t steal my images. Download and use legally at Dreamstime.com.

“Hmmmm. Cool looking caterpillar”, I thought to myself, but didn’t immediately stop the canoe. At the next tree, I saw a couple more and decided to switch to a macro lens and capture a few shots. There were about a dozen, maybe two, munching the leaves and tender vines.

Upon returning home and posting most of my finds on iNaturalist and with some help from Ryan St Laurent, I discovered this bright caterpillar was the Okefenokee Zale Moth, Zale perculta. I also discovered there really isn’t much information published on the internet about. I did learn that they are listed as “imperiled” because of their specialized diet and habitat in which they occur, but not “immediately imperiled” since the Okefenokee is protected as a National Wildlife Refuge. Thankfully, they are also found in a few other swamp habitats outside of the Okefenokee.


iNaturalist observation: https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/47382643

Some helpful sources:

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