Crawling Bling: Trippy Tropical Jewel Caterpillars

Not much is known about so-called Jewel Caterpillars of the genus Dalceridae but one thing’s certain: this group of 84 moth species includes some of the most beautiful bugs you’ve ever laid eyes on. Like gorgeous gems, however, it’s better to look than to touch: the soft, sticky, slug-like creatures are a treat for the eyes, not the hands.

Meet Acraga Coa, A “Slug” With Style

(images via: Project Noah and Scientific American)

Though caterpillars and moths of the genus Dalceridae have been described in scientific literature for over a century, it’s only recently that they’ve come to wider notice among regular folks. This is partly due to the creatures’ habitat, typically tropical rainforests of the Neotropic ecozone which stretches from southern Florida and coastal Mexico down through most of South America.

(images via: Project Noah and DNA)

While advances in modern photography have helped expose Dalceridae larva to readers of National Geographic magazine, among other such publications, the recent proliferation of news blogs, science websites, and photo-sharing sites like Flickr and Pinterest have done even more to bring Jewel Caterpillars to a wider audience.

(image via: Trasyy’s Journal)

Beautiful though the Dalceridae may be, just what the heck are they? Among a vast wealth of caterpillars of virtually all shapes, sizes, colors and configurations, Jewel Caterpillars stand out from the crowd. Even those species whose larvae are uncolored rivet one’s attention due to their glossy gelatinous coatings that seemingly transform them into living, moving gems.

(images via: Scientific American/Daniel Janzen and Project Noah)

The spotlight shining on Dalceridae larvae will likely solidify their everyday colloquial name from Slug Caterpillars to Jewel Caterpillars. Nothing against slugs – some species are surprisingly brightly colored – but for the Dalceridae looking astonishingly exquisite is the norm and not the exception.

(images via: Lepidopterists’ Society, Manuel Grosselet & Georgita Ruiz and Project Noah)

The particular Jewel Caterpillar featured here is the larva of Acraga Coa, a moth native to the Mexican rainforest. Its rise to Internet stardom was facilitated by Gerardo Aizpuru, a scuba instructor and amateur wildlife photographer who noticed a specimen crawling across a Mangrove tree leaf near Cancun, Mexico, one day in April 2012. Aizpuru submitted his excellent snaps to Project Noah, user-created image and knowledge database self-described as “a tool to explore and document wildlife and a platform to harness the power of citizen scientists everywhere.”