Caterpillar Hunting

From east of the East-est to west of the West-est we’ve searched the whole world just to bring you the best-est.

~Dr. Seuss

This past week, I helped Melissa prepare for the largest museum event of the year – BugFest. As always, we headed up the Caterpillarology booth showcasing the incredible variety of larvae we have in this area. She and a few other staff at the museum started looking on Tuesday and I joined the effort on Wednesday through Friday. We searched numerous wild locations and a couple of native plant nurseries and ended up with over 50 species. We didn’t collect everything we found for a variety of reasons and here are some of the critters that didn’t make it to the big show.

Walnut Caterpillars, Datana integerrima. We found these in a natural area in the Sandhills, but decided to leave them be since they are what we call “droppers”. The least bit of disturbance and they fall to the ground. as a defense. This is not a good characteristic for a species to have for a day-long public event with lots of human feet trampling all around.
This beautiful larva is (we think) a Pink Prominent, Hyparpax aurora, found on a Turkey Oak in the Sandhills. Since we don’t have a food source near us, we reluctantly left it in its home turf.
A Luna Moth (Actias luna) larva that has succumbed to a wasp parasitoid. The tiny white q-tip looking things are the cocoons of the wasp larvae that have emerged from the caterpillar’s body after feeding on it from the inside for a few weeks. This caterpillar is doomed, so we left it in the Sandhills. An amazing percentage of the larvae we find have been attacked by various parasitoid wasps and flies.
Purple-crested Slug, Adoneta spinuloides. The so-called slug caterpillars lack the normal legs and pro-legs of most other caterpillars and move slug-like across leaf surfaces. August and September are the best times to find the various slug caterpillars, but this one was so tiny (less than 1/2 inch) that we left it on its host plant.
We found these early instar caterpillars (not sure what species) on our night hunt at a nearby natural area (with permission from the manager). It was a cluster of newly hatched larvae so we decided to leave them alone.
It wasn’t until I looked at the photo on the computer that I saw the parasitoid wasp looking, no doubt, for a victim on which to lay her eggs.
Always excited to find a Saddleback larvae, Archaria stimulea. This one was on a Pawpaw in our yard over a week ago so I was hoping it would make it to BugFest. I checked on it twice and the second time it was missing, so I figured it had gone off to pupate (as so many of the ones we find do just before BugFest!!). But when I looked at the photo this weekend I saw the probable cause for its disappearance…
…yet another parasitoid wasp (or is it two?) laying eggs in the little guy. It amazes me any caterpillars make it to pupate given all the predators and parasitoids that are out there.

Look for the stars that did make to to BugFest in the next post.

7 thoughts on “Caterpillar Hunting

  1. Thank you for doing BugFest, finding, and telling tales of these insects. Beautiful and engaging life stories. I hope more people fall in love with nature.

  2. I just love those posting pictures are so clear and the information so informative thank you so much for sending it out to people like me Jenny Jansen

    Sent from my iPhone

    >

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