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Subjects Caterpillars : Nature Closeups

Geometrid Caterpillar with Enlarged Thorax

October 25th, 2011 - 5:47 PM | Filed under Featured Photos | No comments

23mm long | July 5, 2011 | Victorio Siqueroli Park, Uberlandia, Minas Gerais, Brazil

This caterpillar has an interesting profile. I’ve seen caterpillars with enlarged thoracic segments, but I don’t recall ever seeing a geometrid like this. I assume this is a geometrid because it only has two pairs of prolegs.

Closeup of head and thorax

I was just about to publish this and I decided to look through my copy of Caterpillars of Eastern North America to see if I saw anything similar in the section on geometrids. This is not unlike the caterpillar of the Tulip-tree Beauty (Epimecis hortaria). I’ve never actually seen one of those, even though I often see the adults. Wagner says the odd proportions are distinctive for that species for North America. Perhaps this is a Brazilian species in that genus.


Caterpillars of Eastern North America
by David L. Wagner

Identification Challenge #13 Reveal: Spotted Apatelodes Proleg

October 16th, 2011 - 5:15 PM | Filed under Identification Challenges | 4 Comments

Spotted Apatelodes Caterpillar | October 2, 2011 | Twelvestones, Roswell, GA, USA

Did you guess that the caterpillar above was the critter featured in Identification Challenge #13? Both commenters for this challenge were on the right track, guessing that it was a caterpillar. Here’s the photo again from the challenge.

Proleg closeup

Here’s an even closer look at the proleg so I can point out a few interesting things.

Proleg showing crochets in two different sizes

All those little claws on the proleg are called crochets. This particular species, Apatelodes torrefacta, is one of just a handful of species in my area that belong to the family Bobycidae. The most famous member of that family is the domesticated silkworm moth. One feature of caterpillars in this family is that they have crochets of two different lengths, as shown above.

An identifying characteristic of Apatelodes torrefacta is its vivid red legs. They contrast with the overall color, which varies from white to yellow. Here’s some more interesting compositions of those distinctive feet from the individual featured in this challenge.

Pair of prolegs

In the next shot, note how the middle pair of prolegs appear to be missing crochets. In fact, this shot was taken as the caterpillar was moving forward. The crochets are hidden behind the prolegs, not retracted but bent backwards out of view. The front top proleg is just starting to lift.

Prolegs, showing crochet action

Here’s all the midabdominal prolegs.

All the midabominal prolegs (anal claspers not shown)

Compare the prolegs above with the true legs shown below. It’s easy to see how the prolegs would have significantly more grasping power with all those extra claws.

Head and legs

If you’re familiar with this species, you might have noticed that it’s missing one of its front lashes (the longer sets of hairs). This individual was readily losing hairs as I photographed it. Based on size and time of year, this individual was almost certainly prepupal. At that stage, they easily shed their hairs and are apt to lose their lashes as well. If you look carefully, you can just see the red prolegs grasping the twig.

Side view showing missing lash

Here’s a few notes on the photos. The two images showing the full caterpillar were taken in front of some attractive foliage in my yard. The rest were taken through glass, allowing me to capture the underside. I wasn’t sure the caterpillar would be able to grip the glass if I flipped it over. To my surprise, it held fast once I did. It immediately started laying down silk on the glass though. I thought at first it might be spinning a cocoon, but in fact it was just laying down a silk track to walk on. At the end of the photo session, there was a small trail of silk on the glass where it had slowly made its way forward. You can see some of those silk strands on the glass in the photo above showing all the midabdominal prolegs as well as the one after that showing the true legs.

Here’s a a smaller white caterpillar I found in my yard a few years ago. I photographed this one against sun-dappled pine straw. This one has all its lashes.

September 18, 2008 | Twelvestones, Roswell, GA, USA

White individual with all three lashes

The red prolegs must develop in later instars, because this one still has white prolegs.

White prolegs in this earlier instar

I’ve certainly seen adults of this species, but I couldn’t find an image of one among my photos. If you’re curious, there’s plenty on BugGuide.


Caterpillars of Eastern North America
by David L. Wagner


September 15th, 2011 - 9:10 PM | Filed under Featured Photos | No comments

30mm | July 9, 2011 | Tupaciguara, Minas Gerais, Brazil

I might not have noticed this caterpillar during the day, but after dark it stood out in the light of my headlamp.

Doomed Caterpillar

September 4th, 2011 - 9:00 AM | Filed under Featured Photos | No comments

25mm | July 9, 2011 | Tupaciguara, Minas Gerais, Brazil

Despite its defenses, this caterpillars appears to have ended up with some parasite eggs, a tachinid fly perhaps.

Closer look at parasite eggs

Hidden Caterpillars

August 14th, 2011 - 2:40 PM | Filed under Featured Photos | 1 Comment

10mm body | July 3, 2011 | Tupaciguara, Minas Gerais, Brazil

Scanning the foliage, I spotted some overturned leaf fragments suspiciously resting on top of the leaves they’d been carved from. Lifting the first one up, I found it was concealing a small caterpillar.

Here’s a leaf fragment concealing another smaller caterpillar. That might be the egg the caterpillar hatched from at the top of the photo.

Overturned leaf fragment

And here the little inhabitant is revealed. Note the silk used to secure the leaf fragment in place. I like that it was careful to leave a small hinge.


I don’t know what type of caterpillars these are, but they do remind me of skippers here in the US that I’ve also seen folding leaves.

Parasitised Caterpillar

July 11th, 2011 - 5:52 PM | Filed under Featured Photos | 1 Comment

13mm | July 9, 2011 | Tupaciguara, Minas Gerais, Brazil

The more I observe nature, the more I realize that parasites rule.  So far this trip, I’ve accumulated dozens of photos to prove my point, including the one above.

Believe it or not, this caterpillar was still alive. The parasites, wasps presumably, are long gone.

Prominent Caterpillar

May 23rd, 2011 - 9:13 PM | Filed under Featured Photos | No comments

22mm | January 20, 2011 | Armonia Nature Preserve, Limon Province, Costa Rica

This caterpillar looks enough like some of my local caterpillars that I can confidently say it’s a prominent moth larva. Its markings camouflage it well as it inserts itself into areas it has eaten.

Crypsis Challenge #7 Reveal

December 26th, 2010 - 6:32 PM | Filed under Crypsis Challenges | 2 Comments

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

Commenters had no trouble finding the cryptic critter circled above on a partially eaten leaf. No one figured out that it was a caterpillar though, and a rather bizarre one at that. Here’s a closer look.

It's a caterpillar

It does a pretty good job, I think, of blending in with the damaged areas of the other leaves. I suspect the brown leaf areas were damaged by an earlier instar that chews away at the surface of the leaf rather than eating the entire thing. It looks formidable and I didn’t risk touching it. Those black structures are unlike anything I’ve seen on a caterpillar.

Here’s a head shot.

Head on view

I don’t really have any idea what type of caterpillar it is. I suspect this is just a middle instar and that the final instar might be quite different looking.

Attractive Caterpillar

December 1st, 2010 - 7:30 PM | Filed under Featured Photos | 2 Comments

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

This caterpillar seems fairly distinctive, but I haven’t been able to find anything similar. The white bands are odd. I can’t decide if they are normal or evidence of an injury.

Gold Moth Caterpillar on Wingstem

November 12th, 2010 - 7:22 PM | Filed under Featured Photos | No comments

October 8, 2009 | Twelvestones, Roswell, GA, USA

I found this caterpillar last fall. It was munching away on the flowers of what I believe to be wingstem. The plant was growing beside a walking trail at a forest edge.

Here are a couple of other views.


Dorsal View

I’m basing the identification on similar photos of Basilodes pepita on BugGuide and in Wagner.

I like the bold colors. Wagner states that the combination of colors, behavior and foodplant suggest it might be unpalatable.


Caterpillars of Eastern North America
by David L. Wagner