September 10, 2013

September Caterpillars at Great Meadows

Sam Jaffe returned to Great Meadows on September 9 to lead another caterpillar foray with an enthusiastic group of adventurers.  We began in the edge habitat around the parking lot, which never disappoints.  A yellow bear, caterpillar of the Virginian tiger moth (Spilosoma virginica), caught our attention first.

Sam took us into a nearby grove to see an azalea sphinx (Darapsa choerilus) perched on arrowwood leaves that we never would have spotted without his guidance!

A polyphemus moth (Antheraea polyphemus) caterpillar captivated us next with its luminous green body, fuzzy feet, and gold-flecked appointments.  Two young brothers and knowledgeable caterpillar enthusiasts kept Sam on his toes.

Just as we headed out the dike trail, sharp eyes spotted a spectacular Pandora sphinx (Eumorpha pandorus) who had detoured onto some buckthorn leaves amidst a tangle of grape vines, her preferred food source.  After returning her to the grape vine, she assumed a customary pose in the shade of the leaf.

Pandora sphinx (Eumorpha pandorus)

The evening primroses at Great Meadows are a bountiful resource for winged wildlife.  The primrose moth caterpillar can be found by searching seed capsules for small round holes where the caterpillars feed.  Luck was with us on this foray as many camouflaged caterpillars were stretched out next to the capsules with heads in holes.  When the mature adults are flying in early August, you may find them head down in a flower, not so well concealed!  Primrose flowers are also a rich nectar source for night-flying hawk moths and their seeds provide important late season nourishment for local songbirds and migrating snow buntings.
Primrose moth caterpillars (Schinia florida) with their heads inside seed capsules
Not seen today, I photographed this adult primrose moth in 8.2.09 near Gowing's Swamp
The willows along the dike trail are home to numerous Viceroy caterpillars, throughout the summer and early fall.  This 3rd instar Viceroy larva has made its hibernaculum where it will spend the remainder of the cold months, glued to this stem through the fiercest of conditions, hopefully to emerge next spring to complete its metamorphosis. 

Viceroy caterpillar (Limenitis archippus)
The central dike trail was teaming with diversity in early September.  Not far from the willow, we spotted this expressive silver-spotted skipper caterpillar, in its 5th instar (shedding stage) peeking out of its hibernaculum (shelter) in a showy tick-trefoil leaf. 

Silver-spotted skipper caterpillar (Epargyreus clarus)

Photo session
Three more distinctive caterpillars rounded out our dike trail foray, ending at the river.

Olive-shaded bird-dropping moth (Tarachidia candefacta) caterpillar on ragweed flowers.  Photo by Linda Graetz
Our favorite, the camouflaged looper or decorator emerald (Synchlora aerata) who dresses itself in the petals of the flowers that it consumes and nestles in among the blossoms
Horace's duskywing (Erynnis horatius) on a swamp white oak leaf near the river
Our final discovery, not among the caterpillars were these elm finger galls, rising from the mid-vein of the many floodplain elms, made by the mite Eriophes ulmi.

Please note, all caterpillars are veiwed under the guidance of our knowledgeable instructor, and returned to their food plants afterward.

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