Sunday, September 4, 2016

Caterpillar Tales

Acronicta tritona on blueberry
What a week it has been for caterpillars here! Or is it just a week in which I have become more observant? I’m sure they have quietly been here all along, but this week I was inspired to search for them and - once I started looking - there they were.

It started with a Facebook group – Caterpillar Identification of North America (originally for Eastern North America). With almost 3000 members, a lot of pictures get shared every day of recently found caterpillars. I thought to myself that I really needed to look around more here, for surely some of those could be here too.

Saddleback on goldenrod
So I braved the mosquitos and went outside after work and started looking. And they were there! For a string of several days, I was able to find a new one every day. On Sunday, I found 3 tiny saddleback caterpillars (Acharia stimulea) on goldenrod (Solidago erecta) in the garden – they are colorful but painful! I carefully relocated them to another goldenrod far away from the garden.

On Monday, I found the colorful hooded brown owlet moth nestled in a pot of ‘Golden Fleece’ goldenrod (Solidago sphacelata). I had always hoped to find one of these. It becomes a brown moth that I may never notice, but what a great caterpillar!

Cucullia convexipennis on goldenrod

Also on Monday, I found triton dagger moths on the blueberries. What a cool name! They were small and green when I found them, but some are reddish now as later instars. They are very modest eaters compared to some others.

On Tuesday, I was determined to check the redbud (Cercis canadensis), and I found something! This brown and green caterpillar turned out to be Schizura ipomoeae, the morning glory prominent moth.

Acronicta tritona on blueberry
Schizura ipomoeae on redbud

Excited about my daily treasure hunt, I went out Wednesday to check new types of trees. Near the driveway are several green ash trees (Fraxinus pennsylvanica). Looking up into the leaves, I spotted a brown blotch and realized it was a caterpillar - the hag moth (Phobetron pithecium). I pulled the leaf down to take pictures and have been fetching fresh ash leaves for it ever since.

Phobetron pithecium on ash - how nice!
Phobetron pithecium, the hag moth

Thursday was a bust, however, and I found nothing new. Despite thorough searches on oaks, I found only the usual yellow-striped oakworm this week.  I have found nothing so far on hickories or cherries at all. Of course, I am limited to searching at mostly eye level.

Actias luna on sweetgum

On Friday, I checked out sweetgum trees (Liquidambar styraiflua) and found a bright green luna moth caterpillar. I found only one and when I went back several hours later, it was nowhere to be found. I feel lucky to have found it the first time!

So if you've been wondering where the caterpillars are, get out there and find them. Apparently, they are quietly chewing all around us.


  1. Fascinating to see so many different shapes and colors of caterpillars. Makes me want to go outside and start carefully checking under leaves... :)

  2. Fantastic finds!
    Over the weekend I was shooting tersa moths.... Actually caught one laying an egg on richardia.
    Nothing on hickory? No devils?

  3. You're a real inspiration, Ellen. I love reading your blogs and learning new stuff each time.