What appears to be a flower here is actually a group of caterpillars working their way down a sapling trunk.
They look like they could do a decent job sharpening a pencil, about the same width as this tree(?) trunk.
Despite the black background, this was taken a few hours before sunset. At the time there was probably a few feet of the trunk left. I marked the location and returned after dark. I found no trace of the trunk or the caterpillars. They apparently ate the whole tree.
I know there are defoliating caterpillars. I know there are wood boring caterpillars. I never imagined there are caterpillars that consume an entire tree though. That’s assuming they eat leaves, which I didn’t observe.
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.
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.
The caterpillars were plain green, which camouflages them well in holly foliage.
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.
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.
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.
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.
This was one of the last caterpillars I collected last year for rearing. I generally stop looking around the end of October.
This particular caterpillar is fairly distinct and easily recognized as Schizura ipomoeae. The stripes on the head capsule are diagnostic.
The adult on the other hand is more difficult to recognize, I think. I’d have probably given up identifying it if I didn’t already know what it was based on the caterpillar. This particular one emerged in early May.
You might have noticed I haven’t posted anything in awhile. I get a lot of enjoyment from posting here, and I remain committed to doing so whenever possible. Lately it just hasn’t been a priority for many reasons. Hopefully, I’ll now be able to get back to posting more regularly.
For many years I’ve noticed colorful little caterpillars that live individually in silken retreats on the surface of leaves of poison ivy. At a recent BugGuide gathering, a photo of one of these caterpillars was shown and I realized we still didn’t know what these were. I resolved then to rear a few to try and arrive at an identification. There’s plenty of poison ivy near my home, so I didn’t anticipate much trouble finding a few.
Here’s the first one I found. The white area just behind the head is atypical. The caterpillar is smaller than usual, so it might be an early instar. It could also represent some sort of injury.
The next day I collected another one, larger.
The next weekend I collected one more.
Here’s a cropped version of the image above, showing the head. Checking these specimens and other photos on BugGuide, there appears to be quite a bit of variability in the head coloration. They all have a white band across the lower part of the head capsule though.
At that point I figured I had a good chance of successfully rearing at least one.
The last one I collected was the first to pupate. A few days before pupating it started to change color. That’s not unusual for caterpillars as they prepare to pupate. In this case it darkened to become more orange.
I neglected to photograph any of the pupae.
Earlier this month, an adult eclosed. It’s attractive and quite distinguished looking with an elaborate headdress.
After searching through various guides, I decided this must be what’s currently known as Macalla superatalis. My books actually identified it as part of a genus it was previously placed in, Epipaschia. The common name, Dimorphic Macalla (previously Dimorphic Epipaschia), refers to the fact that it comes in two color forms: green as above, or tan.
Having arrived at the identification, I checked BugGuide and found that someone had beat me to the identification based on a literature search. Oh well, it looks like I might be the first there to have successfully reared them though.
Even though I can’t identify it, it’s pretty enough that I had to post it.
Earlier this month I was checking for anything interesting in my backyard when I came across this caterpillar in a rolled up leaf on viburnum. I decided to try and rear it to get an identification.
It turns out it was a final instar because it pupated beneath its leaf within a week, sometime around the 9th.
I removed the pupa from its webbing for some cleaner shots.
I checked daily for the adult, but sadly it eclosed while I was away on vacation, sometime around the 20th give or take a few days. When I got back I found a dead and beat up adult. I prefer live images of a fresh adult that I can release later, but I’ll take what I can get here I guess.
Based on similar looking moths, I decided it must be a Tortricid moth in the genus Archips. Looking through all the species images on BugGuide, I decided it most resembled Archips grisea.
It has what appears to be a costal fold on the forewing, indicating it’s probably a male.
This page has a description of the larva which is consistent with the caterpillar I found. One distinguishing feature is a completely black head and prothoracic shield.
The page also says the first pair of legs are black while the other two pair are pale green and unmarked. Check.
Everything suggests this is Archips grisea except the host plant. Either this is something else, or viburnum hasn’t been recorded for this species.
I’m asking for some expert help here. If it checks out I’ll update BugGuide as there are currently no larval images for this species (or anywhere on the internet that I can find) and no record for Georgia.
No one commented on the latest identification challenge. Despite showing just the tip of the forewing, the image provided showed the distinctive feature of a subfamily of moths commonly called hooktip moths. If you got that far, it’s a pretty simple process of elimination since there are only a handful of North American species, each one easily distinguished from the other. This species is the Arched Hooktip, Drepana arcuata.
This individual appears to be a male, based on the widely bipectinate antennae.
As I mentioned in the original post, this moth was reared from a caterpillar I encountered late last year. They feed on alders and birches. I found this one on alder, within a leaf it had folder over using its own silk.
I raked my fingertip through the silk, in order to get a clearer view.
These caterpillars have enlarged warts, shown here.
It’s actually quite a handsome caterpillar. Note the bands on the head capsule, which no doubt inspired its common name, Masked Birch Caterpillar.
One other interesting thing about these caterpillars is that they scrape or beat parts of their anatomy against the leaf in order to advertise their presence to neighboring individuals. In this way they can space themselves out and avoid unnecessary competition.
This cryptically colored little caterpillar reminds me of lichen moth larvae I’ve seen closer to home (Family Arctiidae, subfamily Lithosiinae). If so, it’s in the right place!