August 11, 2013

Caterpillars - The Art of Hiding in Plain Sight

On August 3, caterpillar maven, Sam Jaffe,  joined me at Great Meadows to lead a magical mystery tour through the refuge, hunting for the subtle clues of caterpillars who were hiding in plain sight.  Another Caterpillar Foray will be offered on September 7.  See end of this post for details.

Marj Rines assists a Cecropia moth caterpillar onto a cherry leaf
Large and colorful Cecropia moth caterpillar (Hyalophora cecropia)
Caterpillars thrive in the diversity of edge habitats, so we spent considerable time exploring the borders of the refuge parking lot for munching inhabitants.  

During Sam's introduction, a hummingbird clearwing moth flew into the foliage of a nearby Viburnum shrub.  Sam announced that "she" was looking to lay an egg, and that instant she did!

Hummingbird clearwing (Hemaris thysbe) egg on arrowwood (Viburnum dentatum)
Here is a sampling of other parking lot marvels that we discovered, first in the forested areas...

Yellow-shouldered slub caterpillar covered with just hatched parasatoid wasp larvae
Red-spotted purple caterpillar (Limenitis arthemis) on mid-vein tip of cherry leaf.  Note detritis "packet" below caterpillar and vein tip extension (from cemented line of its own fras or excrement) above
...then along the marsh at the base of the observation tower...

Tented enclosure of a silver-spotted skipper (Epargyreus clarus) caterpillar on leaf surface of the ubiquitous showy tick-trefoil (Desmodium canadense), with an early stage caterpillar inside
Hog sphinx (Darapsa myron) caterpillar, just prior to shedding, on the underside of fox grape leaf
Galls on small quaking aspen made by larvae of poplar petiole gall moth (Ectoedemia populella)
Heading out the Dike Trail, we encountered two more understory caterpillars...

Four-horned sphinx (Ceratomia amyntor) caterpillars
Sam returning caterpillars to the underside of their preferred elm leaves
Smartweed caterpillar which becomes the smeared dagger moth (Acronicta oblinita)
While Sam highlighted the search images, or visual cues, for many of the caterpillars we were seeking, we had a sharp-eyed group of explorers who spotted many of the camouflaged creatures.

Red-humped caterpillars (Schizura concinna) eating false indigo (Amorpha fruticosa)

Vertically folded enclosure of the red admiral butterfly caterpillar (Vanessa atalanta) found on false nettle (Boehmeria cylindrica)
The most beguiling caterpillar one can meet, along the Dike Trail, hides disguised as a flower.  The camouflaged looper, caterpillar of the wavy-lined emerald moth.  These tiny loopers adorn their backs with flower petals, then take position on that same flower looking first like a fresh and then fading bit of the blossom.  The slightest irregularity in a flower's characteristic pattern is the clue to its presence.  We spotted several on both fleabane and blue vervain flowers.

Exciting find!
Adorned looper completes the blooming sphere around a blue vervain spire where it harvested flowers for its costume.  Photo © Kristine Ferrigno 2013
Another looper takes position on a daisy fleabane blossom

Finally at the river, along the edge of the floodplain forest, we found blackberry loopers, posing as short stems in the goldenrod flowers...

Two blackberry loopers (Chlorochlamys chloroleucaria) pose as green vertical stems on goldenrod.  Photo © Kristine Ferrigno
Our caterpillar foray was punctuated by a few additional wild highlights rarely seen when walking the Dike Trail...

Tiny gray tree frog clinging to rough surface of elm leaf
Black and yellow garden spider (Argiope aurantia) with wrapped prey
Eastern amberwing dragonfly (Perithemis tenera), photo © Kristine Ferrigno
Join us on our next Caterpillar Foray at Great Meadows with Sam Jaffe on Saturday, September 7, from 1-3:30 pm, $25 registration.  For registration details, email or call Cherrie at 978-760-1933.

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