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

Aruba’s Fontein Cave Art

July 16th, 2012 - 10:30 PM | Filed under Featured Photos | No comments

Fontein Cave | April 23, 2012 | Arikok National Park, Aruba

Arikok National Park contains the most well known of Aruba’s caves. I visited one of them, Fontein Cave, guided by a park ranger.

Arawak indians inhabited Aruba around 1000 AD. They adorned the walls of this cave and others with petroglyphs.

At the park’s visitors center, a display suggested that the following petroglyph might be an ironclad beetle.

Ironclad beetle, stylized, so forgive the missing legs

My guide quizzed me on a few others. I was asked about this one first.

Bzzzzt, what do you think this represents?

I guessed honeycomb. My guide smiled and vigorously nodded.

Bees were definitely on my mind though. I had just seen a bee hive in the limestone not far from the cave entrance.

Bee hive entrance in limestone.

As I stared at the bees coming and going, I started to wonder if I might be watching killer bees, since I was well within their range. As that thought crossed my mind, I was suddenly stung on my arm. Fighting the urge to run, I calmly walked away, without further incident.

Getting back to the cave though, my guide shone his light on another spot. Here, I had no clue what the petroglyph might represent.

Can you guess what this might be?

I’ll leave that one as a challenge of sorts. Feel free to comment with your guess. I’ll post a comment later on with what my guide told me.

Striped Anole, Displaying

July 14th, 2012 - 10:22 PM | Filed under Featured Photos | No comments

April 23, 2012 | Arikok National Park, Aruba

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.

Female? Or a young male?

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.

Reference:

Amphibians and Reptiles of Aruba
by R. Andrew Odum
PDF hosted at WildAruba

Roosting Bats in Aruba

July 10th, 2012 - 11:31 PM | Filed under Featured Photos | No comments

April 23, 2012 | Arikok National Park, Aruba

While hiking around in Arikok National Park, I spotted from a distance some bats flying around below a small limestone overhang. I approached just close enough to snap a few pictures for possible identification.

I’m not nearly as close as this picture might suggest. I used my 100mm macro with a 1.6x teleconverter. This is also a significant crop from the original photo.

It appears I may have upset them, although I didn’t know that at the time. I’m surprised by their reaction. I didn’t figure my activity would disturb them. They weren’t in a cave, just beneath an overhang where there was plenty of indirect light. They were restlessly flying around even before I approached, perhaps trying to find a dark corner.

Those are some sharp little teeth! I assume they are bared for effect, since they seem to be staring straight in to the camera lens. It was a hot day though, so maybe they’re panting?

I found a couple of possible species for these bats, but I don’t have any confidence in saying which one these might be.

Aruban Lizard on Tree

July 5th, 2012 - 9:01 PM | Filed under Featured Photos | 1 Comment

April 23, 2012 | Arikok National Park, Aruba

Aruba could easily be called “Lizard Island”. You can’t take a step without seeing a few scurrying away. I don’t think there’s a square inch of sand that doesn’t have a lizard track in it.

Checkered-Fringe Prominent Rearing

July 4th, 2012 - 5:43 PM | Filed under Featured Photos | No comments

30mm | 29 October 2011 | Suwanee, GA, USA

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.

Head on view

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.

20mm long | 11 May 2012

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.

Poison Ivy Caterpillar / Dimorphic Macalla Moth

May 20th, 2012 - 4:36 PM | Filed under Featured Photos | 3 Comments

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.

13mm | August 20, 2011 | Roswell, GA, USA

The next day I collected another one, larger.

20mm | August 21, 2011 | Roswell, GA, USA

The next weekend I collected one more.

20mm | August 27, 2011 | Roswell, GA, USA

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.

Closeup of head

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.

Prepupal stage of final instar | 9 September 2011

Another closeup of head

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.

20mm wingspan | 4 May 2012

Lateral view

Front view

Closeup of head

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.

References:

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

Tapinoma Ant Observations

May 2nd, 2012 - 10:31 PM | Filed under Featured Photos | 1 Comment

April 13, 2012 | Twelvestones, Roswell, GA, USA

For several days I had noticed ants racing along the bricks at the base of one of my garage doors. I finally took a closer look to see what could be keeping them so busy for so long. They were streaming between a hole in my house and somewhere out in the front yard. I tried following, but these ants are tiny, only a few millimeters long. I quickly lost them in some pine straw.

Moving out

Turns out they were moving out of my house. The ones heading toward the yard were carrying eggs, larvae, and pupae. As I watched them though, I noticed something else leaving with them that didn’t look quite right.

That's not an ant

When I first saw one of the critters above, I knew it wasn’t an ant. My initial thought was it must have been a tiny roach. That first one was gone before I could react, but I headed inside to grab some containers in hopes of seeing more. Over the course of an hour and a half, I spotted three more and managed to grab a couple of them.

Watching one, it seemed unsure of its course. At times it would bump against some incoming ants and dart away. It would always rejoin the column, but sometimes moving in the wrong direction.

About to right itself

Eventually it would right itself, almost always after encountering an ant carrying a larva or pupa. I’d guess it can’t follow whatever chemical signals the ants are tracking and instead relies on following the cargo.

Follow the larvae

It got me wondering how the ants know which direction to go in. I know they follow a chemical trail, but what tells them which direction they should go? Actually, lots of questions came to mind as I watched them. How do they know it’s time to move? How do they decide on a new nest location?

Later, I gave the freeloaders the white paper treatment.

Dorsal view

I began to wonder if these weren’t crickets. I grabbed Arnett’s American Insects and started skimming the cricket families listed there. When I came to Myrmecophilidae (Ant-loving crickets), I figured that must be it. I briefly thought I might even be able to contribute something to BugGuide, but it turns out there were plenty of photos there already, confirming the identification.

Dorsolateral view

Both the specimens I captured have ovipositors and so must be female.

Frontal view

Rear view

Another shot

I found some good info on these in my Field Guide to Grasshoppers, Katydids, and Crickets of the United States. These crickets only live in ants nests. They apparently feed on oily secretions from the ants bodies, causing no ill effects. Only one species occurs in my area, the Eastern Ant Cricket, Myrmecophilus pergandei. This particular cricket species has been found living with eleven different species of ants.

Speaking of ant species, I decided to try and identify the host ants. Using the key in Ants of North America: A Guide to the Genera, I arrived at Tapinoma. Based on the remarks there, I believe these ants must be Tapinoma sessile. I sacrificed one to see how well the common name of Odorous House Ant applies. It was indeed odorous, and as I mentioned, they were leaving my house.

As I watched the ant column, one other thing caught my attention. Fairly often, I’d notice a much larger ant passing by, about twice as big as the others. I snatched one of those as well.

Queen

Remembering some of Alex Wild’s comments from his blog entry on how to identify queen ants, I recognized this as a queen. That only confused me though, since I had seen perhaps half of dozen of these in the brief time I observed the column. I naively thought that ant nests generally had a single queen. The wikipedia entry for this species says that its nests can actually have hundreds of queens!

I wasn’t familiar with either of these interesting insects when I started watching them. Had I encountered them a week later though, I’d probably have recognized them from a recent post from Alex Wild. He scooped me, but I couldn’t let the opportunity to blog about them pass.

What happened to the ants you might be wondering? Well, they can’t seem to make up their mind. As I write this there is still a column going strong, weeks later. They were steadily moving out for almost a week, but then at some point I noticed they had reversed course and were moving back in. I don’t want to imagine just how many thousands of ants there are somewhere in the walls of my home.

References:

American Insects:
A Handbook of the Insects of America North of Mexico

by Ross H. Arnett, Jr.
Field Guide to Grasshoppers, Katydids, and Crickets of the United States
by John L. Capinera, Ralph D. Scott, and Thomas J. Walker
Ants of North America:
A Guide to the Genera

by Brian L. Fisher and Stefan P. Cover

Wild Goat

May 1st, 2012 - 8:08 PM | Filed under Featured Photos | No comments

April 23, 2012 | Arikok National Park, Aruba

I took a short trip to Aruba recently. Late in the trip, I spent a half day in Arikok National Park. I saw plenty of wild goats. There are reportedly wild donkeys as well, but I didn’t see any of those.

Leafrolling Mystery Caterpillar

April 29th, 2012 - 7:43 PM | Filed under Featured Photos | No comments

20mm | April 5, 2012 | Twelvestones, Roswell, GA, USA

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.

Pupa within leaf shelter

I removed the pupa from its webbing for some cleaner shots.

11mm | Underside of pupa

Dorsolateral view

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.

10mm | Adult

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.

Note enlarged area near base of forewing

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.

Uniformly 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.

Leg colors consistent with larval description

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.