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Featured Creatures : Nature Closeups

Black-Dotted Ruddy / Holly Looper

July 23rd, 2012 - 11:10 PM | Filed under Featured Creatures | 1 Comment

Being National Moth Week, I have every excuse to post about one of my favorite subjects. Admittedly, I get more excited about caterpillars, but I enjoy seeing the moths that most of them become.

Back at the end of April, I was distracted by something while going to check the mailbox. Actually, I’m often distracted any time I venture into my yard, but that’s kind of the point of having one for me. Anyway, some large hollies form a hedge along part of my driveway. I spotted a caterpillar dropping from from the holly to the ivy beneath it. I grabbed it for a closer look and started scanning the holly for others. I quickly found another one and brought them inside for rearing. Less than a month later, I was rewarded with a Black-Dotted Ruddy, Ilecta intractata.

25mm | May 17, 2012 | Twelvestones, Roswell, GA, USA

The common name refers to the four black dots, one centrally located on each wing, which help identify it.

The plumose antennae identify this specimen as a male.

Male, based on the feathery antennae

The caterpillars were plain green, which camouflages them well in holly foliage.

~19mm | Dorsal view of plain green caterpillar

Because of their plain appearance, I figured they would be difficult to identify. As it turns out, if I’d just cross-referenced the food plant, I’d have identified them pretty easily. The caterpillars are in fact known as Holly Loopers.

Demonstrating the source of its common name, looper.

They feed exclusively on holly, but don’t seem picky about which variety. I have a different type of holly in my backyard, and I found a dozen or so feeding on it as well. In fact, it was difficult to find a leaf that didn’t show evidence of their feeding behavior. As they feed, they notch out deep cuts.

Notching the leaf as it feeds

It didn’t spin a cocoon, so it probably pupates in soil normally. That would explain why it was dropping from the holly when I first encountered it.

10mm | Pupated around May 3, 2012

Here’s hoping that you’re distracted by a few moths this week. Just leave an outdoor light on for them, and you’re sure to be rewarded with something interesting.


Peterson Field Guide to Moths of Northeastern North America
by David Beadle and Seabrooke Leckie
A Field Guide to Moths of Eastern North America
by Charles V. Covell, Jr.
Caterpillars of Eastern North America
by David L. Wagner

More Bell-bearer Treehoppers

October 7th, 2010 - 4:48 PM | Filed under Featured Creatures | 6 Comments

January 28, 2010 | Caraça Natural Park, Minas Gerais, Brazil

Another photo, same individual

One more shot, same individual

I’ve been researching these neat little treehoppers some more and I found references to a couple of Brazilian species, Bocydium globulare and tintinnabuliferum. I had to mention these just because of the scientific names.

Do you know the Edgar Allen Poe poem, “The Bells”? Remember these lines?

To the tintinnabulation that so musically wells
From the bells, bells, bells, bells,

That came to mind as soon as I saw that scientific name, tintinnabuliferum. Besides just sounding cool, it translates as “bell-bearer”. The other name, globulare, I can’t quite work out, but I think in part it means “little balls”.

Also, I still haven’t seen a convincing purpose for the headdress other than what Marshall mentions in the book I referenced in the previous post. He suggests that in some cases they give the appearance of an ant (something usually undesirable to predators).

Elsewhere on the web I saw it mentioned that the headdress breaks off easily. A predator might then end up with just this nonessential body part.

Staring at these though, I just don’t see an ant and I didn’t see any specimens missing their decorations. One thing that comes to my mind is that it looks like an insect that has succumbed to a fungal infection. Compare, for example, this image.

Here’s the only photo I have of a different individual.

January 28, 2010

And here’s a few shots of one I found a few days earlier.

January 26, 2010 | Caraça Natural Park, Minas Gerais, Brazil

Rear view

Globular Stink Bug Invasive

September 26th, 2010 - 5:20 PM | Filed under Featured Creatures | 7 Comments

This post’s featured creature is Megacopta Cribraria.

August 5, 2010 | Twelvestones, Roswell, GA, USA | ~5mm

Just outside the entrance to my subdivision, there’s a stand of kudzu, Pueraria montana var. lobata, at the border of a city park. If you’re not familiar with kudzu, it’s a major invasive here in the Southeast that pretty much takes over wherever it manages to take root. Many of the volunteer outings with the local nature conservancy are focused on eliminating this invasive from conservancy lands. Here are a few photos of the area to give you an idea.

Covered pine tree

Kudzu towering over trail

While walking past this stand on my way to the park, I noticed several bugs crawling around on some of the large leaves. They piqued my attention, so I took a closer look. I recognized them as a new invasive species themselves that I had read about last year. The adult bugs had gotten attention as they sought shelter from the coming winter in and around homes close to kudzu stands in an area about an hour from me.

Taking a closer look inside the kudzu, you’d see something like this.

You can see all life stages here, including some eggs

Even if you don’t get close enough to see them, you can smell them from dozens of feet away.

I returned later that evening to take some clippings home for some studio shots. The adults are quick to drop and take flight, but I snagged quite a few of those as well.

Most of the egg batches I found were on new growth close to the vine. Here you can see some eggs on a budding leaf. The lighter colored eggs with their caps popped off are empty. The darker ones are on the verge of hatching. The nymph on the left is resting after emergence, and the other one is still working itself out of the egg.

Eggs, hatching | Each egg ~.5mm long

Above, the eggs have been neatly arranged in two rows. That was the common pattern, but there were exceptions. I think the female responsible for the eggs below might have been drunk on kudzu wine.

Another batch of eggs

Note those dark spots at the base of some of the eggs. These are packets of symbiotic gut bacteria provided by the mother that the newborns consume. Apparently the bacteria are host specific, so the ones here will help the bugs digest kudzu specifically.

In the images below, you can see groups of nymphs from various instars  feeding together.

Nymphs feeding near leaf buds

Another group of nymphs feeding

Here’s a closer look.

Nymphs feeding on kudzu vine

Nymph feeding, showing low profile

Fifth instar nymph, with wing buds | ~5mm

The sexes are slightly different. In general, the males are slightly smaller than the females. You have to check the undersides to really tell them apart. The females are lighter on the underside of all abdominal segments, whereas only the first few abdominal segments are lighter in the males. The genitalia are also easily visible. The male’s are roundish and the female’s are more triangular.

Female on left and male on right showing sexual dimorphism

Even in captivity, they weren’t shy.

Two males pursuing a female



I saw lots of lacewing eggs, like the one below. I never saw any actual predation though.

That's not a balloon kiddies

Occurrence of the Old World bug Megacopta cribraria (Fabricius) (Heteroptera: Plataspidae) in Georgia: a serious home invader and potential legume pest [pdf]

Trechaleid Spider with Young

July 19th, 2010 - 10:44 PM | Filed under Featured Creatures | No comments

The first thing I photographed after arriving in Caraça Natural Park was this hunting spider, found wandering in an unpaved parking area.

Trechaleid Spider with Young | January 25, 2010 | Caraça Natural Park, Minas Gerais, Brazil

Up until I started preparing to write this post, I figured this was a wolf spider. After reading to learn more about the parenting behavior shown here, I’m now convinced it is instead a species in the family Trechaleidae. What first tipped me off was a similar photograph in this little book:

Spiders (Collins Gem)
by Paul Hillyard

Several identifying characteristics are mentioned for the particular species pictured. After some online searching, most appear to be shared by other species of the family.

The middle eyes are smaller than those of a wolf spider. Compare the image below with a wikipedia image of a wolf spider.

Detail of eyes, smaller than those of a wolf spider

Every time I looked at certain images, something struck me as odd about the legs. Indeed, something mentioned by the book above is “carved” leg endings, which I assume is a misprint for “curved”.

Curved tarsus

Trechaleids also have a circular carapace, here being overrun by spiderlings:

Circular carapace viewed from above

Whereas wolf spider young are carried on the mother’s back after emerging, Trechaleids carry their young on the egg sac. Here’s a closeup of the spiderlings on the egg sac. The lighter colored area at the bottom has some shed skins. In some of my photos, it looks like it might be an emergence point.

Spiderlings and shed skins on egg sac

As you can see in the initial photo above, the spiderlings were nicely grouped on the egg sac. Then this ant somehow climbed aboard and started wreaking havoc. That’s why there are spiderlings scattered over the mother’s carapace in some of these photos.

Inconvenient ant

Lastly, here’s a not so great image of the entire spider (and the marauding ant).

Entire spider

White-marked Tussock Moth

June 30th, 2010 - 10:20 PM | Filed under Featured Creatures | No comments

I often encounter the easily recognized White-marked Tussock moth, Orgyia leucostigma. I found this one feeding on maple at the end of May in my front yard.

May 31, 2010 | Twelvestones, Roswell, GA, USA | ~30mm

I grabbed it for some closeup shots and to attempt to rear it.



Defensive glands

It must have been a final instar, because it pupated just five days later. It spun the cocoon at the top of a container, but I carefully removed it to take some photos.

Cocoon | June 6, 2010 | ~40mm

A flightless female emerged ten days later.

It's a female! | June 16, 2010 | ~15mm


Females cling to the cocoon until mated. That night, I carefully pinned the cocoon with her on it to a post on my deck. When I checked an hour later, mating was already in progress. The male that found her was rough looking, having lost many wing scales.



The next morning I checked on the cocoon. As expected, the female had laid an egg mass. I assume she fell to the ground as she was nowhere to be found.

Froth-covered egg mass | ~17mm

Surface of egg mass

The eggs overwinter, and I’m holding on to them. Hopeful I’ll get some photos of the early instars sometime next year.