Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Random Caterpillars

I decided to take a couple of hours and conduct a search for caterpillars.  I’ve done that in the past, sometimes with dismal results.  This time I already knew the location of a couple of interesting specimens, so I was sure the search wouldn’t be a total disaster.  Far from being a disaster, my search was more successful than I imagined.  I begin with a species I had never seen before, the Skiff Moth caterpillar. This species looks so much like a leaf blemish that I would have passed it by if I hadn’t previously seen it in photographs.  That’s a Sycamore leaf it is consuming.

On the same Sycamore tree were dozens of these Saddleback Caterpillars.  Those spines are capable of delivering a painful sting.  The caterpillars have the habit of feeding from the underside of the leaves and are often hidden from view.  I managed to confirm the stinging ability of these caterpillars as I maneuvered the leaves in order to get some photos. 

Another with stinging ability is the Black-waved Flannel Caterpillar.  These look very much like a patch of fluff stuck to the leaf.  Head and feet are neatly obscured, but the hair generally points toward the rear where a wispy tail is formed, so you can usually figure out which end ought to be doing the eating.

Not all hairy caterpillars contain stings.  The Banded Tussock Moth may be the most noticeable caterpillar currently roaming Blue Jay Barrens.  I’ve been finding them on every tree or shrub I search.

Banded Tussock Moth caterpillars have a range of color forms from light yellow to dark gray.  I’ve seen half a dozen different colors this year.

On the same Sycamore mentioned earlier, I found several sizes of the Sycamore Tussock Moth caterpillar.

The Sycamore Tussocks also exhibited slight variation in color.  Most showed some yellow, but a few were white.  This is the head end showing the signature eyebrow and whisker tufts.

That Sycamore tree was a treasure trove of caterpillars.  My first sign of caterpillars in the tree was the sound of fras, caterpillar droppings, falling through the leaves.  Unfortunately there were only a few branches low enough for me to reach.  I saw many American Dagger caterpillars resting beneath the leaves, but this was the only one close enough for me to photograph.  Turning the head back toward the body is a characteristic posture for a resting American Dagger caterpillar.

This White-marked Tussock Moth caterpillar has already eaten a large part of the Redbud leaf.  The forward and rear tufts of hair make me think scorpion whenever I see this caterpillar.

The Delicate Cycnia caterpillar feeds on Dogbane.  A patch of Sweetclover that I mowed earlier this summer also contained several Dogbane plants.  Those plants regrew and now have the fresh, young leaves preferred by this caterpillar.

Not all of the caterpillars I found were covered by hair.  I’m still finding Monarch caterpillars on the Milkweeds.  I can’t remember ever having a year where I’ve seen so many Monarch caterpillars.  If Monarchs are doing this well elsewhere, the wintering grounds will be overloaded.

I found this bright little Calico Paint caterpillar feeding on Lance-leaved Goldenrod.  This is an early instar individual and has yet to reach the most colorful stage of its development.

The Checkered-fringe Prominent caterpillar is a leaf edge mimic.  Its body fills in the void left by feeding and gives the appearance of a portion of leaf that has withered due to some unfortunate experience.  This guy fed much more slowly than I’ve come to expect from caterpillars.  Perhaps rapid feeding spoils the mimicry effect.

I found this fellow beneath the leaf of a Persimmon.  This is a Wavy-lined Heterocampa.  Although it is supposed to be very common, this is the first I have encountered. 

I was lucky enough to find an early instar caterpillar that still displayed its antler-like growths.  It’s an attractive caterpillar, but it would have been overlooked had it not been silhouetted by the sun shining through the leaf.

Not all of the caterpillars I found were in perfect health.  This Red-humped caterpillar was on the barn wall a short distance from a hole used by wasps going to and from their nest.  Bodily fluids were leaking from a puncture located about two-thirds of the way back from the head.  It moved very slowly and later fell to the ground.  I suspect it may have been wasp prey that escaped its captor while it was navigating the entrance hole.  It fled the wasp, but was still immobilized by the sting.

Some caterpillars had finished their lives as hosts for various parasites.  This Banded Tussock is nothing but a hollowed shell.

If I carried a ladder with me I might be able to reach some of those caterpillars that feed farther from the ground.  There were several caterpillar-like blobs and shadows high in the trees that were beyond the ability of my eyes or camera to make clearer.  The camera zoom did allow me to extend my reach some, but the results were never great.  I was able to change a gray splotch into a group of early instar Turbulent Phosphila caterpillars feeding on Greenbrier.  I’ll have to check back and see if I can get a better view once these guys have put on some size.


  1. That's quite a collection! Some very interesting creatures.

  2. I'm glad you enjoyed them, Furry Gnome.

  3. amazing! loved the pix!! thanks :)

  4. Even several years later, your caterpillars bring education to and spark interest in little 5-year-old grandsons. (We were perusing the Internet, learning about what we had found munching on Grammy's trees and flowers! Thank you for doing the work, making my job that much easier.

    1. Hi, Mrs. Turner. I'm glad the photos were helpful. I hope the boys continue to find interesting creatures in your landscape.