If you have a chance to play in nature, if you are sprayed by a beetle, if the color of a butterfly’s wing comes off on your fingers, if you watch a caterpillar spin its cocoon– you come away with a sense of mystery and uncertainty.
BugFest, the NC Museum of Natural Sciences’ premier special event, is over. Somewhere around 29,000 people visited this year, and, as always, we talked to a lot of them about the caterpillars we collected in the days leading up to the event. A lot of effort goes into preparing for the event, by everyone involved. For us caterpillar wranglers, it means finding and caring for a variety of fascinating critters, and then releasing them all back into the wild. Every year we have specimens that never make it to the big day because they either pupate or have been parasitized and die. So, there are many things that our visitors miss seeing. Here is something that only a few us were privileged to witness this year.
Let’s start with a mystery. I found this cocoon on a leaf in one of the cages with multiple species of larvae we collected right before BugFest. It reminded me of a tussock moth cocoon of some sort since it appears some of the “hairs” from the caterpillar have been incorporated into the cocoon covering. I didn’t have time to do much with it until after the event. I looked at it more closely, and then remembered we had collected a very nice spotted apatelodes (Apatelodes torrefacta) caterpillar who had started to shed its setae the day before BugFest.
I was disappointed at the time, because these large larvae are certainly in the cute category of caterpillars, especially if you manage to get a look at their undersides…
They are one of the only larvae I know that dress like a friend of mine from my museum days (you know who you are) and wear outlandishly bright “socks” (in this case, red, instead of the purple ones my friend still wears). When I realized I had not seen the pupa of this particular specimen, I googled it, and there it was, mystery solved – it is a spotted apatelodes cocoon.
I’ll share a few more of the leftovers from our caterpillar collecting efforts in the next post.