Monday, June 4, 2012

American Lady Caterpillar

The American Lady butterflies that were busily laying eggs in the Pussytoes a few weeks ago have now almost disappeared.  In their place are caterpillars quietly munching away at the Pussytoe plants.

There’s no shortage of food plants here, especially on the trail.  Low growing plants always thrive when taller growing plants are mowed and Pussytoes are no exception.

Rolled leaves are usually a sign of plants in distress.  On Pussytoes, this condition often indicates the presence of American Lady caterpillars.  The caterpillars pull together the leaf edges and seal them with silk to form a protective chamber in which to feed.  The caterpillar has left here and the leaf is beginning to reopen.

Smaller caterpillars create smaller chambers.  The white area is feeding damage.  As the caterpillars grow, their droppings collect in the silken floor of the chamber.  All evidence of the caterpillar presence is neatly contained.

As they grow, the caterpillars will change locations several times.  Larger caterpillars will use several leaves in construction of the feeding chamber.

The loss of several leaves doesn’t seem to permanently hurt the plant.  New leaves will continue to grow and will probably be ready in time for the next wave of female American Ladies looking for suitable egg laying sites.

Feeding is restricted to the surface of the leaf forming the inner walls of the feeding chamber.  No holes are created in the leaf to expose the hidden caterpillar.

Extensive caterpillar activity is evident in most areas of Pussytoes.  I’m anticipating an impressive hatch of adult butterflies in the near future.

Several feeding chambers contained a shriveled caterpillar along with a small cocoon.

I’m guessing a predatory wasp has been at work.  In the insect world it doesn’t matter how well you hide.  There’s always some predator that has learned where you can be found.

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