So Many Green Things, So Little Time…

black swallowtail caterpillar after molt

Black Swallowtail caterpillar after molt (click to enlarge photos)

There has been a spate of caterpillar sightings the past few days, especially of the big green kind. I know this is just to get me overly hopeful that some of them may actually still be around for use at the caterpillar tent this coming Saturday at the NC Museum of Natural Sciences big special event, BugFest ( see http://bugfest.org/ for details). Indeed, the timing of BugFest this year has me worried that many of the cooler cats that have been out and about will decide it is time to pupate a day or two before the event, leaving us with a precious few to entertain and educate the thousands of visitors expected to attend. It has been a great year for Black Swallowtals in the garden, but suddenly, the caterpillars have all but disappeared, as has their food supply of parsley and fennel. I saw one female laying eggs late last week, so I am hopeful a few of them make it, but most are busy feeding and molting their way to pupation in a hurry as the cooler weather sets in.

Luna caterpilar on Persimmon

Luna Moth caterpillar on Persimmon

I was checking a Persimmon tree late last week and was surprised to find this guy, one of my favorite caterpillars, feeding on it. This is the larva of one of the most beautiful moths in our area, the Luna Moth. I usually find them on Sweet Gum so I initially thought this was a Polyphemus Moth caterpillar as my experience has been that species favors a wide variety of tree leaves. But a closer look revealed the tell-tale yellow stripe along the length of the abdomen and the stripes at the trailing edge of each abdominal segment that separates the Luna from the Polyphemus (whose oblique stripes run through the spiracles along the sides).

Tobacco Hornworn on tomato

Tobacco Hornworn on tomato

The final big-green-eating-machine found last week was a Tobacco Hornworm on one of my few remaining tomato plants. This has not been a good year for tomatoes in my garden as the excessive early rains may have encouraged the blight, so there have been relatively few of these common garden caterpillars around. When disturbed, this one pulled into the characteristic posture that gives this family its name—they elevate the front part of their body and assume a posture reminiscent of the Egyptian Sphinx. Unfortunately for me, this one is large enough that it most certainly won’t last until BugFest. But, I will be out and about looking for more (hopefully successfully) the next few days so I hope you will tolerate a few more posts on caterpillars. They are one of my favorite subjects to photograph and I have found them to be one of the best ways to help get people of all ages excited about nature. If you are in Raleigh on Saturday, September 21, be sure to stop by  the caterpillar tent outside the main museum and let us share the excitement with you.

And a late note…I had this prepared to post tonight but went out today looking for caterpillars and had quite a day – more in a future post later this week.

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