These caterpillars come in brilliant green, pink and yellow, banded, and striped forms that often look nothing at all like each other.
~MOSI Outside blog post
If you are not a fan of bugs, then you may want to take a break from this blog for a bit because it is what is happening right now (oh, there may be something on bears or birds soon, but bugs rule this time of year). Yesterday at work I got an email and a voice mail from two staff about some cool caterpillars in our lower nursery. Comments ranged from do you know this guy, some sort of sphinx? to as big as a hot dog. Of course, I had to go see.
When I arrived, several staff were working in the nursery and pointed out the “hot dog” larva (it was about the size of my index finger). I recognized it as a banded sphinx. It was the characteristic shape of a sphinx moth larva, but lacked the true rear “horn” of most other hornworms. And the diagonal stripes are oriented in a different direction than those of most other sphinx species larvae (these slope from the abdomen upwards towards the head, whereas those in most species, like tobacco hornworms, go from the abdomen upwards toward the rear). But it soon became apparent that this beauty comes in many stripes…
We found several more caterpillars, many with a more reddish color scheme.
Then, as I was walking out, I spotted another sphinx on the same host plant (Ludwigia sp.) but with a totally different pattern. I assumed it was a different species, but when I checked my field guide, I discovered that banded sphinx larvae come in two forms – a heavily striped one and a green one.
A close-up comparison of the three major color morphs of this species we found yesterday is shown above. Amazing variety for one species! And they are beautiful from every angle.
If you think these caterpillars are amazing, here is a look at the adult banded sphinx moth…
This moth was sitting at the front door of the Allen Education Center one morning earlier this summer. I took it out of harm’s way and snapped a couple of photos before releasing it. Perhaps some of those amazing caterpillars are descendants of this individual. Discovering several of these stunning caterpillars is one reason I find it so interesting working at the NC Botanical Garden. The diversity of native plant species makes for an incredible richness of fauna as well. Every day, a new discovery!
I love reading your blog and the big stories are wonderful! I love the close up pictures of the socks. I am sure someone who studies these sort of creatures would love your pictures that give such wonderful details. Thanks once again for sharing your finds.
So beautiful, indeed! Thank you! I am wondering if the variations in caterpillar stripe and color result in corresponding variations in moth stripe and color. Perhaps it is difficult to track that, though. Thanks again for a delightful and informative photoessay.
A delightful post, as always, and your photos are stunning. You are so fortunate to have a job that gives you opportunities to see all these intriguing creatures. Keep the “bugs” coming for those of us out here who find them fascinating.
Thanks, Kathleen. Will do!
As always – fascinating! Thanks for sharing your knowledge of nature! It’s always wonderful to learn something new every day.
Thanks, Mary Kay.
a wonderful post!