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Moth pupa in the soil

Moth pupa in garden soil

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I run across these interesting pupa now and then when I dig around in my garden in the spring.  They're hard and shiny, seemingly sound asleep, but then the tail end begins to rotate slowly when you pick the pupa up.  Disturbing.

I usually don't go in for wholesale destruction of insects, but for some reason I got it into my head that these pupa were the overwintering stage of the squash vine borer.  So I fed every one I found to my chickens (who were very appreciative.)  A bit of research doesn't turn up any images of squash vine borer pupa, but does show several hawk and sphinx moth pupa that look a lot like this.  If I remember, I'll stick the next one I find into a jar and see what hatches out.  Any better ideas?

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About us: Anna Hess and Mark Hamilton spent over a decade living self-sufficiently in the mountains of Virginia before moving north to start over from scratch in the foothills of Ohio. They've experimented with permaculture, no-till gardening, trailersteading, home-based microbusinesses and much more, writing about their adventures in both blogs and books.

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The movement would creep me out. I have seen these before as well. I thought they were some type of moth but can't remember what. Here is a link with photos that look the same.

The tomato horn worm turns into the Sphinx moth? I just read that. Interesting.

Comment by HeatherW Mon May 10 12:39:09 2010

I have to admit, there was a slightly girly "eep!" over here when the hindquarters of the pupa started rotating. :-)

The website you linked to does look the most like my pupa of all the ones I've perused! That moth seems pretty harmless. As long as it's not the sphinx moth (whose beauty, I have to admit, almost makes me forgive them for their very minor depradations on our tomatoes.)

Comment by anna Mon May 10 13:15:40 2010
Yeah...I put one in a jar with some soil and hatched it. It's actually a moth. (I am trying to figure out what kind) Here is a pic of the adult squash vine borer. DEF not the moth I hatched.
Comment by bugaroo Thu May 13 16:44:10 2010
Did you take a picture of the moth that emerged? That's what I'd really love to see!
Comment by anna Thu May 13 20:11:58 2010
I just put a couple of these in a jar to see what would come out (thought my kids might enjoy that) and it's a medium-sized moth with a slightly raised up arch in its back near its head. One was darker and one lighter brown (could be male vs female). They have distinctive spots near the bottom of their wings. I wish I had taken a picture! I just looked up hawk and sphinx months however and it was neither of these.
Comment by Adam Thu May 27 10:39:38 2010
Following up to my previous comments--after searching the Web for any matches to what I saw come out of that chrysalis, the closes I could find was tiger moth--but there are so many variations of the species!
Comment by Adam Thu May 27 11:00:30 2010
Thanks so much for experimenting and sharing! I've seen tiger moths around here, so that would make sense. And, best yet, they don't seem to be harmful in the garden, so I can leave them alone!
Comment by anna Thu May 27 13:41:26 2010
You'd be better off finding the live caterpillars on the catalpa tree in your yard! They used to be highly prized for fish bait in the old days.
Comment by Sandy Mon May 9 23:08:16 2011
...but interesting info! Given the large number of sphinx moths in our yard this year, I suspect that these pupa probably are from those beautiful moths. What we've seen the most of so far is bumblebee moths.
Comment by anna Tue May 10 07:55:02 2011
It might be a common "miller" moth. They burrow into the soil and pupate between March and May depending on the temp.
Comment by Anonymous Thu May 17 03:22:30 2012

The pupa does look a lot like that, but I don't think we have Miller moths here. According to Wikipedia, they live in Europe and the Western US.

Or maybe you're talking about Agrotis spp. (often called cutworms) instead of Acronicta leporina? If that's the case, I should keep pulling these pupa out and feeding them to the chickens!

Comment by anna Thu May 17 16:46:23 2012
This is the pupa of a cutworm. Horrible grubs eat through the base of plantlings at soil level and the source of rootless plants wilting on the ground. However I've seen a lot of debate across the internet that you can't identify them at this stage and hence to know for sure, drop it in a jar and watch to see what hatches. Good luck to you!
Comment by Chris Wed Aug 15 13:18:52 2012
Chris --- I suspect you're right --- we have plenty of cutworms. I haven't seen many of the pupa, though, since 2010 --- perhaps because we've been even more no-till and don't get into the dirt much. I do occasionally find cutworms in the garden while weeding, at which point I give them to the chickens.
Comment by anna Wed Aug 15 16:22:57 2012
Just found one about 2" long in the finger of my cotton glove which had been laying on my porch for about 6 months. We've jarred it and will post photo when it emerges. I'm betting Tiger Moth because one disappeared in our house about the same time. Beautiful! Didn't notice any rotating tail... pretty cold though.
Comment by Mark Ostrom Thu Nov 15 21:26:44 2012
I am searching the internet for help identifying this strange little thing I came across while weeding today! It was so awesome to see the rear rotate like a satellite when there's not a visible head... It's the very first time I've ever found something like this. Thinking now about keeping it in my house/a jar if that won't harm it? I'm glad there are other people who are also interested in stuff like this and put the information out there for nature lovers (but not a scientist) like me :D Thank you for posting about this moth, however many years ago it was.
Comment by Birdancer Tue Apr 30 19:20:41 2013
I just found one of these today! How cool, I have put into a Jar with soil and a lid and am waiting for it to hatch. I will definitely take a picture and post.
Comment by Anonymous Sun May 12 18:31:21 2013
I have round a moth pupa in my garden and would like to hatch it in a jar. I have put it in a jar with some little holes in the lid is there anything else I need to do ?
Comment by Tyler Mon Jan 6 07:04:51 2014
Tyler --- I'd probably put the pupa in some dirt if it came out of the dirt, just to keep it moist. Other than that, you've probably got the right idea. I'll be curious to hear what hatches!
Comment by anna Tue Jan 7 18:51:32 2014
Found one too same exact thing. It is really gross how the ass end squirms in circles. Yuck! Im gonna hatch it and see what happens. Email me at AndrewjAY707@GMAIL.COM IF YOU GOT ANY QUESTIONS.
Comment by andrewjay707 Wed Feb 10 18:03:54 2016
Mine just hatch it's a fat moth don't know what kind yet I have a picture but can't post
Comment by Anonymous Sun Apr 3 18:01:36 2016
Just uncovered six while putting in a flower bed. Can't be a grub because I can c wings. After moving and covering back up, I figured I might check and c wat they were. Maybe they will bring me luck because I seek to draw in bees,butterflies and humming birds.
Comment by Anonymous Fri May 20 17:06:28 2016
Found a caterpillar at work in a veggie patch and have put it in a tub at home, it's been it pupa form for a month now, looked it up beforehand and I believe it to be an Angle Shade. But won't know for.. Who knows how long.
Comment by C Stace Wed Jun 29 00:48:29 2016

I found one as a caterpillar and put it in a jar with some grass. A week later it was a cocoon. It burrowed into the grass and became a cocoon. Now I am waiting to see what it is.

Comment by Kaydence hoffert Sun Mar 26 19:14:58 2017

I know this is an old post, but I wanted to post in case anyone still reads it. I found one of these in my garden this year, accidently dug him up and so decided to keep him in a clear tub with air holes to see what happened.

I had a piece of kitchen towel at the bottom, and sprayed him lightly with water now and again. I touched him lightly every now and then and he did his little Elvis wiggle so I knew he was still alive.

One day, maybe 2 weeks after I found him, I looked over to see him emerging! I can't tell you the excitement to see him there. I put a daffodil leaf upright in the tub so he could sit on it and unfurl his wings. Yes he was a lovely moth, with a beautiful orange underwing, and a splash of orange on top. Basically an orange underwing moth.

So now a proud mother of one moth, I let him go and watched him take his first flight, wishing him luck on his journey. I took some photos of him, but cant figure how to post here so if anyone would like a photo, please post with your email address and I will send one.

Comment by Jenny Tue May 16 09:19:52 2017
I found one in my pot where I grow tomatoes. I picked it up with a paper towel, and the end rotated and made a clicking sound. Icky!
Comment by Margot Thu May 18 15:29:58 2017
It is a tobacco hornworm that eats tobacco leaves and tomatoes! Here is the link to learn all about the emerging moth.
Comment by D Cline Thu Jun 29 14:14:15 2017
I found a pupa in the dirt last week and I still have it to see what type of moth will emerge. A few days later I captured a green crankworm to see what it would turn into and the next day it surrounded its self in a web (cocoon) and the day after that it transformed into a dark brown pupa that was slightly larger than the first one I found. The pupa is the final stage of development, during which metamorphosis takes place over a period of about two weeks. The pupa may be different colors and sizes depending on the type of moth but overall I think they're all similar so there's no way to pinpoint which one it is until the transformation is complete and the moth emerges.
Comment by Shandelle Fri Jun 30 09:03:29 2017
I found the same thing in my moms garden. I would like to hatch it to see what it becomes. Any tips or any info on how to do this? How long should it take? Do i have to feed it or pour some water in the jar? How deep does it need to be? Etc etc...any help woukd be greatly appreciated. Thanks in advance.
Comment by Josh moore Wed Mar 21 19:06:27 2018
I hatched mine, kept it in a jar with air holes punched in the lid and sprayed a small amount of water on it every now and then so it didn't dry out. When it hatched I put a small twig in so that the moth could climb up and dry his wings out. If they don't have something to climb on they could have bent wings. I didn't put any food in as I let it go as soon as the wings were dry and it was night time.
Comment by Jenny Thu Mar 22 16:25:12 2018

There are probably hundreds, if not thousands, of moths that start out as pupa that look exactly like this. I'm sure there are some slight differences but to the untrained eye they all look the same.

However, one ting is almost certain, no matter what it is, it is likely to be a vegetable garden pest. Just keep feeding them to your chickens so they actually do some good.

Comment by Chuck M Sat May 12 00:56:27 2018

I found one just like this. But it's been at least a month now and hasn't hatched... I'm almost thinking of throwing it out, because I assume it's probably dead.

Comment by Cynthia Sat Jul 28 01:13:03 2018
You can usually tell because if you hold it for a little bit they sometimes move, maybe put it in the earth just in case it is alive still. It will either hatch or not that way.
Comment by Jenny Sat Jul 28 07:51:03 2018
Hi everyone! I came from vacation a few weeks ago and to my surprise one of my smaller tomato plants had been eaten bare to the branches. There was not one leaf but the culprit was hanging there like 10 fat green blobs. I found out that this was the hornworm. I killed every one of them with my Home Defense spray. So when I returned from another trip; my huge tomato plants looked skimpy and tomatoes that were growing and harvesting several every few days had trickled down to nothing. I look closely and found that the suckers had gotten into my tomato's so I just pulled all of my plants up. Does anyone know if these are predators of zucchini and yellow squash. My zucchini was growing and producing as usual and then suddenly the leaves and branches began to dry up and die. I pulled the remaining plants up because it had stopped producing anything. My squash was making very few and most were rotting from the tip and having black furry moldlike stuff on them. My garden this year has been a disaster. This is the first time in 3 years of gardening that pest have invaded my beautiful gardening. How do I avoid this with my fall and winter garden. Thanks y'all.
Comment by Alliee Tue Jul 31 00:03:45 2018
I found a catipillar that turned into this...very little info found on the net...but I'm suspecting a moth too...
Comment by Gabby Sat Sep 8 10:40:16 2018
Ok, I found a reddish brown one last Sept but not in the soil. It is now March. It was in a cocoon in the corner of our deck railing. The cocoon was turning brown so I thought that whatever was in there had died. I opened one end and slid out the pupa. I put it in a glass on my desk and took it out one day and it wiggled at one end....scared the hell out of me. I want him to grow and be on his way but not sure how to help him along. He looks exactly the same, Should I keep him in the cocoon or put him on some grass or soil?
Comment by Nancy Littlejohn Sat Mar 21 11:42:23 2020
I think it likely best if you put him back in his cocoon and maybe do what I did and keep him in a jar (with airholes) to keep him safe. I sprayed mine lightly every now and then with a little water to stop him drying out and had an upright twig in there for him to climb up when he hatched. They come out and need to dry their wings, so they climb something so that the wings don't dry out deformed. I am guessing he wont start changing until whatever month it is that they start coming out, I cant remember when mine did. If he stayed alive this long after you took him out, he deserves a chance, good luck!
Comment by Jenny Duncan Tue Mar 24 20:19:53 2020
Thanks Jenny, I'll do that...still in the cocoon and I put it in a larger jar. Will add a twig and a water spray now and then.
Comment by Nancy Littlejohn Wed Apr 8 10:19:31 2020

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