On a short hike through the neighborhood a week ago, I saw a Snowberry Clearwing moth (I posted a blog on these day-flying moths on July 29) hovering near the ground and briefly touching leaves of various plants. This is classic behavior for female moths and butterflies searching for their host plant in order to lay an egg. She hesitated momentarily on a Japanese Honeysuckle leaf (one of her host plants) and deposited a single egg. I collected the stem of honeysuckle, found a discarded cup along the gravel road, and added some water from a nearby puddle to keep the plant fresh until I got home. I often carry a plastic bag with me on walks in case I find an interesting caterpillar I want to photograph. You can cut a portion of the plant the caterpillar is on and enclose it in a plastic bag and it will stay fresh for several hours as long as you don’t leave it in direct sunlight. The flimsy bags that newspapers are delivered in make great collecting bags as they are long and skinny and scrunch down to fit in your pocket. But I had left home without one that day so had to improvise. Back at the house I put the stem in a water-filled floral vial to keep the plant fresh for a few days until the egg hatched (vials are available at florists or craft stores like Michaels).
I checked the egg every morning and on day 6 from the day it was laid the egg hatched. I grabbed my camera (Canon 7D), the 65 mm macro lens, and the macro twin lights and took a number of shots, moving the lights around to get different highlights.
I zoomed in on the larva and took several more shots. This image is one of my favorites as it brings out the texture of this little guy and shows the remains of the egg in the lower right corner of the picture. Many caterpillars eat their egg shell as their first meal soon after they hatch. One feature of this tiny caterpillar surprised me since I have photographed them before in their later instars – the tail spike seemed really long relative to the overall body length. This apparently changes and becomes more proportional as the caterpillar grows and molts. After getting all the shots I thought I needed (if there really is such a thing) I released the caterpillar in my garden. The easiest way to do this is to attach the cut stem with the larva onto another host plant growing outside using a clothes pin or paper clip. The larva should crawl off the original plant onto its new food source as the older plant begins to wither. I hope to find Little Spike in a week or so after a couple of molts to photograph it again.