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.
Yesterday was International Rock Flipping Day. I’ve read about it in the past, but this is the first year I’m participating.
I don’t really need an excuse to flip a rock and explore what’s beneath, but the whole event certainly motivated me to get my blog posts going again. I have been busy outside of blogging, so there’s plenty of good stuff coming up, so don’t give up on me.
Yesterday was beautiful here in my area, so I already had plans to go bug hunting. Knowing I’d be looking for a rock to flip, I chose a nearby park where I knew there were lots of good candidates. Here’s the rock I settled on after being distracted by lots of other interesting critters along the way.
I carefully turned over the rock, hoping for something blogworthy. On the ground beneath, a centipede uncoiled, drawing my initial interest. Scanning the scene, I also saw a millipede and a few ants. Then, movement on the underside of the rock itself drew my attention. A harvestman in the family Cosmetidae betrayed its presence.
I’ve seen this type of harvestman before, and a photo of that one submitted to BugGuide has since been identified as belonging to the genus Vonones.
Here are some of my favorite shots of this harvestman, the only thing from that rock that I chose to photograph for the 2012 International Rock Flipping Day.
The Striped Anole, Anolis lineatus, was probably the species of lizard I most encountered in Aruba. I assume the common and scientific names refer to those dark broken lateral stripes, but it’s known locally as Waltaka.
Here’s another one, a female perhaps.
My earlier post of the lizard on a tree is also one.
After a good bit of googling, I came across a good free resource on the reptiles and amphibians of Aruba, link below.
I had planned to post just a single photo of this scene with ants tending treehoppers. Here we see at least two different colorful treehopper instars, with one actively molting. Ants like the one shown above tended to this small grouping of treehoppers. As I was choosing a photo to post, I noticed something strange about the treehoppers though. Do you see it too?
Look closely and you’ll see that a few nymphs have parasites. I wasn’t sure at first, so I started looking through my other photos. Sure enough, almost every one had one or more parasites. The parasites seem to prefer hiding under the wing pads and below the thorax.
Most of the parasites were small, but there were at least a few plump ones.
None of the photos provided a clear view of the parasites, but I suspect they are mites. In any case, apparently the services provided by the ants don’t include grooming.
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.
When I spotted a group of treehoppers like the one above, I settled in for a while. With such a beautiful subject, I was determined to get some good photos. The shot above is probably my favorite out of around 300 or so shots. I struggled to get something in the background to avoid the usual black background that usually happens with macro flash photos. A black background wasn’t going to serve very well for these mostly black treehoppers.
Not only are the adults pretty, but the nymphs are also attractive in their own way. I prefer the black background here.
The treehoppers cluster together in small groups.
Somewhat surprisingly, these treehoppers didn’t appear to be attended by any ants.
I thought this exuvium was interesting. The interior is orangish, like the spikes on the abdomen. I suppose the base color is really mostly orange with black spots. The white color must really just be white scales.
They were on a good sized tree.
While looking around for an identification, I encountered a similar looking species on this plate from the Biologia Centrali-Americana identified as Membracis foliata. This article indicates there’s been confusion around that species though, so it could very well be one of the other species mentioned there (unfortunately I can’t access the full text).
This colorful moth in the family Arctiidae looks a little worse for wear. Nonetheless, it’s quite striking and I’m sure a fresh specimen must be even more so. I later saw another one of these near a porch light so it might be a common species.
While searching for a possible identification, I came across this blog posting. It describes how hundreds of caterpillars were invading people’s home in Piracicaba, São Paulo. With the help of a biologist, they found both the host plant and some pupae for rearing. What emerged looks very much like the moth above, identified as Cosmosoma teuthras, a common moth throughout Brazil. Check the site for photos of the caterpillars, pupae, and an adult. I have no idea if there are similar looking species, but it seems like a good possibility for what I found.
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.
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).
Here’s what might be an immature form of these scale insects. The tube where honeydew is excreted is easier to spot here.
And finally, here’s an ant soliciting honeydew from that same small scale.
I’ll separately post more photos of the ants.
This attractive male jumping spider has some interesting hooks on his chelicerae. Take a closer look at this crop from the image above.
He really has a lot going on colorwise as well. I imagine those banded front legs might be used in some sort of courtship ritual. One has to wonder if and when those hooks come into play though.