Answers from the Wild Side

What is this colorful thing that looks like a float in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade?

A mature spicebush swallowtail caterpillar. — Fred Roven

Hi Matt,

My friend Fred found this on his car. What is it, and why does it look this way?

Hi. It’s a mature spicebush swallowtail caterpillar. These turn yellow or orange at maturity, which some say is adaption to help keep them hidden when one of their larval host plants, sassafras, starts to turn orange in September. More generally, they mimic snakes, as a way to deter predators. The eye spots are pretty convincing, aren’t they?


The great outdoors can produce baffling mysteries. MVTimes Wild Side columnist Matt Pelikan tries his best to solve them. Got a question for the Wild Side? Send it to