Tree Sharpening Caterpillars

November 2nd, 2013 - 4:38 PM | Filed under Featured Photos | 1 Comment
~30mm long | January 5, 2013 | Panga Ecological Reserve, Minas Gerais, Brazil

~30mm long | January 5, 2013 | Panga Ecological Reserve, Minas Gerais, Brazil

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.

Side view | Trunk ~5mm wide

Side view | Trunk ~5mm wide

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.

Black-Dotted Ruddy / Holly Looper

July 23rd, 2012 - 11:10 PM | Filed under Featured Creatures | No comments

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.

References:

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

Foraging Turtle Ants

February 15th, 2012 - 5:42 PM | Filed under Featured Photos | 1 Comment

4mm long | July 8, 2011 | Victorio Siqueroli Park, Uberlandia, Minas Gerais, Brazil

I spotted these turtle ants (Cephalotes sp.) crawling around on vegetation, occasionally stopping to solicit honeydew from scale insects. I’ve been somewhat enamored with these ants ever since seeing some of Alex Wild’s photos, particular the specialized nest guarding soldiers. Sadly, despite watching the workers, I’ve yet to successfully find a nest for an opportunity to photograph one.

I’ll have to satisfy myself with the foragers for now.

Dorsal view

Here’s another one taking honeydew from a scale insect.

Feeding from scale insect

Scale Insects

February 14th, 2012 - 5:55 PM | Filed under Featured Photos | 1 Comment

5mm long | July 8, 2011 | Victorio Siqueroli Park, Uberlandia, Minas Gerais, Brazil

I probably wouldn’t have noticed these scale insects were it not for the ants that would occasionally stop to feed from them.

Its difficult to see in the first photo, but each one has 20 or so waxy threads spiraling away from the body. It’s not clear to me where exactly they’re coming from. The threads are a bit easier to see in the next few photos.

Waxy corkscrew shaped filaments radiate out from the body

I wonder if the spirals don’t help the ants to locate the scale.

The scales excrete honeydew from a small orange tube (to the left above, right below).

Side view

Here’s what might be an immature form of these scale insects. The tube where honeydew is excreted is easier to spot here.

Immature scale? | ~2mm

And finally, here’s an ant soliciting honeydew from that same small scale.

Ant (~4mm) soliciting honeydew

I’ll separately post more photos of the ants.

Cockroaches

July 7th, 2011 - 10:15 AM | Filed under Featured Photos | No comments

30mm | July 2, 2011 | Monte Alegre, Minas Gerais, Brazil

I saw quite a variety of cockroaches in my relatively short outing to Monte Alegre. The first one, above, was the largest and was not altogether unattractive. It blended in well with the leaf litter.

The second one was a bit smaller, and was spotted in some low foliage.

25mm | Dorsolateral view

This last one was the smallest, but the most robust.

20mm | Dorsal view

It was moving slowly about until it encountered something tasty (rodent dropping?).

Lateral view | Feeding

Ants Tending Leafhoppers

July 6th, 2011 - 7:37 PM | Filed under Featured Photos | 3 Comments

July 2, 2011 | Monte Alegre, Minas Gerais, Brazil

These ants are tending to some treehopper nymphs. Most of the ants are busy collecting honeydew, but the one on the bottom has noticed me and is on alert. I accidentally bumped the branch after this shot and all of the ants started running around looking for something to attack. I held up a leaf for a background here so that the ants would stand out.

In this next shot, I’m assuming the white areas are either treehopper eggs or a protective covering for the eggs. One of the adult treehoppers is also visible here, a darker shade of red than the nymphs.

Egg mass and adult treehopper

In this final shot, there are more eggs, another adult and some late instar nymphs.

More eggs and some late instar nymphs

Two Flies Sharing a Meal

July 4th, 2011 - 9:43 AM | Filed under Featured Photos | 2 Comments

January 21, 2011 | Finca La Isla, Limon Province, Costa Rica

These two flies are sharing a meal.

I can easily identify the larger one as a micropezid.

Micropezid

I’m not sure about the smaller one though.

Smaller fly

Jumping Spider with Prey

July 3rd, 2011 - 7:47 AM | Filed under Featured Photos | No comments

January 21, 2011 | Finca La Isla, Limon Province, Costa Rica

This little salticid has captured a small fly of some sort.

White scales on the chelicerae almost look like a mustache.

Frontal view

Identification Challenge #12 Reveal: Emesinae

June 21st, 2011 - 6:31 PM | Filed under Identification Challenges | No comments

30mm (body) | January 20, 2011 | Armonia Nature Preserve, Limon Province, Costa Rica

Only one reader commented on the latest identification challenge. Bryan Reynolds found it easy to identify this as a thread-legged bug in the subfamily Emesinae (family Reduviidae). Be sure to check out Bryan’s new non-profit, The Butterflies of the World Foundation.

This thread-legged bug was spotted in some leaf litter, finishing off some sort of nondescript prey.

Feeding Derbids

June 18th, 2011 - 2:37 PM | Filed under Featured Photos | No comments

30mm (wingspan) | January 21, 2011 | Finca La Isla, Limon Province, Costa Rica

These planthoppers in the family Derbidae are feeding on the yellow stem.

You can clearly see the left one’s beak (rostrum) inserted in the stem. Next time I’ll have to try and get a good profile shot. They really are odd looking.

Face on

Also odd are those Velcro like hooks along the leading edge of the wing.

What purpose might these hooks server?