Posts Tagged 'caterpillars'

Monarchs, Mostly

All the Monarch caterpillars I’ve seen this month in Green-Wood. Not overwhelmed by the numbers, unlike two years ago.
Black Swallowtail for a change of pace.

I thought this Judith Butler interview on gender was excellent. It was an exchange of emails, so much better than a conversation; the written word is still the most powerful tool of communication we have.

[The initial version of this post mailed to subscribers had the wrong link to the Butler interview. Sorry about that. It’s now been corrected.]


The caterpillar of the Wavy-lined Emerald Moth (Synchlora aerata) sticks bits of plant material to itself.
I’ve seen this before, but only on instars half this size. Nice to be able to get some feet in these shots.

FYI: some green lacewings stick clumps of lichen to their backs. Try as I might, though, I couldn’t get any photographs of two recent sightings.

National Moth Week: Polyphemus

A one centimeter-long instar of the Polyphemus Moth on a white oak leaf in Green-Wood.
It’ll get bigger…the final instar can be 6cm long (about 2.5″).
If this survives all the vicissitudes, it will pupate and return next year as a large moth.

Found last winter: I think these are all Polyphemus cocoons.
From this summer: an egg.

Willow, white oak, and swamp white oak have been where I’ve found all these life stages.

Check out this time-lapse of a Monarch caterpillar pupating. The pupal casing is internal which is not something I understood until now.

Ok, but how does a Polyphemus larva wrap itself in leaves on the way to pupation?

Tiger Swallowtail

A couple of caterpillars of the Eastern Tiger Swallowtail butterfly.
When they are in their early stages or instars, they look a bit like bird turds.
But when you look closer, your larger-than-average predator brain will note some curiosities. The “eyes” are fake, by the way.(Some caterpillars pretend to be twigs…)
As they get older, the caterpillars get greener, blending into the leaves.
The final instar looks like a cigar stub! I haven’t seen one of these lately, but some years ago I met one on the sidewalk.

There photographs were taken over a period of a week and half, all on the same sweetbay magnolia. Not sure how many individuals these represent. I never saw more than two at a time, but there were a lot of leaves out of eye-sight.

Wasps and Caterpillars

This Euodynerus hidalgo wasp was digging into this old rudbeckia (or maybe it’s a coreopsis).
For almost nine minutes.
This European Tube Wasp (Ancistrocerus gazella) seemed interested.
Caterpillar! From deep inside the flower. I think it’s Homoeosoma genus.
The Tube Wasp did not steal this prize.
The wasp flew her prey off to her nest, where it will feed her young.

Several minutes earlier, in the same patch, an earlier extraction of a caterpillar. Could be the same female wasp. I don’t know how many caterpillars she needs to provision her nest, but up to twenty get stuffed into a Tube Wasp’s.
Same patch, same time period: caterpillar crawling up flower stem and sliding into what seemed like a pre-existing hole in the flower. A future moth…or wasp food?

Oaks to Caterpillars to Birds

The National Wildlife Foundation has a county-level guide, the Native Plant Finder, to native plants that support caterpillars. Why caterpillars? Because they are esentially the foundation of the food chain for song birds. Even the seedeaters that come to your feeders for seeds and suet in winter feed their young caterpillars. Caterpillars are relatively soft as insects go, and they are simply packed with fats, proteins and carotenoids, which are vital for avian development and feather pigmentation.

The stats on caterpillar consumption are mind-boggling: a single nesting pair of Carolina Chickadees will feed their young ones 6000-9000 caterpillars before fledgling, meaning over sixteen days on average. After fledgling, nobody has counted, but fledged Chickadees get feed for up to three more weeks. It’s rare to see Carolina Chickadees in Brooklyn.

Here’s another: a Wilson’s Warbler pair were closely observed. The male carried food to the nest 241 times a day, the female 571 times a day. For five days. That’s a minimum of 4060 caterpillars, if each trip was one caterpillar’s-worth. Often as not there are more than one caterpillar in the parent’s bill, at least in places un-assaulted by chemical warfare and invasive species.

Bobolinks: parents brought food to nest 840 times a day for ten days in a row.

A UK study of ten different passerines found an average of 259 food trips to nest per day.

Audubon’s Plants for Birds is another good source for information on plants to grow in your area. Many of the plants sold for yards and gardens are the WORSE thing you could do for local food webs. After all, they’re for sale so people can make money. Pretty and exotic is sterile. Ornaments and decorations, it turns out, are actively working AGAINST nature.

“Bird-friendly” shade grown coffee? Nope, not if the shade is being thrown by eucalyptus trees, which are often used because they grow fast… and provide shade. But they provide next to nothing for the birds because they provide nothing for local insects.

(In California, where they went crazy for eucalyptus a century ago, precisely one species of insect has adopted to living off these exotic and invasive trees in that time.)

It’s not just biodiversity. The kind of plant makes a lot of difference. Some keystone species are disproportionately productive for food webs. “A landscape without keystone genera will support 70 to 75 percent fewer caterpillar species than a landscape with keystone genera, even though the keystone-less landscape may contain 95% of the native plant genera in the area.”

The single best insect-friendly species to plant in 84% of U.S. counties are white oaks and their relatives. They support some 934 caterpillar (butterfly and moth) species nation-wide. Compare with tuliptree (21 caterpillar species), black gum (26), Sweetgum (35), persimmon (46), and hemlock (92). In the mid-Atlantic states, white oaks host nearly 600 species of Lepidoptera larvae.

Do you know how many species of butterfly in their larval state live on Buddleja, the famous “butterfly bush” much touted as food for butterflies, in North America? One out of the 725 species.

But wait! Of the 511 caterpillar species found on oaks in Chester Co., PA, 95% of them fall to the ground when they’re fully grown. They don’t pupate in the trees themselves, probably because they want to escape predators. Instead, they burrow into leaf litter, dig themselves into the ground, and even chew their way into rotten wood. So a stately oak in a patch of turf grass, well-mowed and sprayed, with hard-packed soil, tidied up every fall of all those rich leaves, is a desert. Put in native shrubs and/or flowers like wild ginger, foamflower, and woodland phlox. Or keep the leaf “litter.” (Change the name of litter to “natural fertilizer” and/or “habitat.”)

All data and quotations taken from Doug Tallamy’s new book, Nature’s Best Hope, to be discussed tomorrow. A book for your neighbors, I’m guessing.

Caterpillars at Backyard & Beyond.


When a body meets a body coming through the…
Black Swallowtail caterpillar fit to pupate.
The Asteroid, AKA Goldenrod Hooded Owlet.
A reprise of the Common Buckeye caterpillar.
Five were seen in the same small patch.
The blue spines!
Our old friend the Monarch. On the same day, two days ago, a female was laying eggs nearby. This has not been a great year for Monarch caterpillars in Green-Wood.
An addendum to last Friday’s post on Tiger Swallowtails.
This is a brand new chrysalis.

This is hard to read, but the unspeakable has become our reality.

Webworm Days

Fall Webworm caterpillars have been everywhere. This one was on a raised bed on the sidewalk next to the local high school last week, with barely a tree in sight.
I don’t even remember where this was, back in July.
Here’s yet another, along the 5th Avenue Green-Wood fence. Uh-oh!

You see, everybody knows the prolific caterpillars are out and about. Dozens of parasite species attack Fall Webworm, which provide a lot of meat. This one is an ichneumon wasp. I’m not sure what her strategy is because I can’t get her down to species level. She’s a member of the tribe Gravenhorstiini of the family Ichneumonidae.
But that strategy ain’t good, at least according to the caterpillars. The wasp, of course, has another agenda.
Those are, in fact, caterpillar droppings. These colonies are messy.
Here’s more. These are cocoons of a Meteorus genus wasp. They hang from rather crinkly silk under the webworm nests. Both look like they have exit holes at the base. According to Eisemen and Charney, if the exit whole is irregular and on the side, it’s the work of another wasp who parasitizes the parasite.

The Mosaic

All this week I’ve been detailing little pieces of the great mosaic of life around here. That’s what this blog has been doing for years now, sure, but this week’s cicada / Cicada-killer wasp / Mockingbird sequence was vary connect-the-dots. Usually I see something and then say something, building up observation after observation, painting a picture — I hope — of complicated and threatened biodiversity here in the city. And everywhere: the corporate-plutocratic-fascist arson in the Brazilian Amazon is going to makes things so much worse.
Yet these creatures persist. Under the milkweed leaves… a male mosquito, I think, and a very small Monarch caterpillar. That’s another in the first picture above. These were perhaps 7mm long, the smallest instar or stage of life I’ve ever seen for this species.
An adult depositing an egg, too quick for me to drop down to my knee and get focused.
Here’s another planting on egg on the underside of the leaf.
Monarch eggs are so small.
Here’s another egg. Above it is an emptied egg, I think. Below it looks like some tiny organism sucking life-giving juices from the plant.
The caterpillars get so fat!
Even their droppings are substantial.
A weary fighter on her last wings.

American Dagger

There is so much going on “in” an oak tree. The biologist E.O. Wilson has written that you could spend a lifetime voyaging like Magellan around a single tree, discovering all the interrelated life associated with it. Quercus is definitely one genus where this applies very well.

This British study found 284 insects associated with oaks. There isn’t a lot of oak diversity in the UK. Meanwhile, searching the combination of insects and oaks on-line gives you a lot of information on pests, as we define them. A lot of things eat oaks, to be sure. Migrating songbirds know it well: an oak in spring is rich with caterpillars. The hungry birds hunt and feast within the emergent leaves, gobbling up caterpillars in the canopy — things we rarely ever see, yet are quite clearly there.

There’s a row of Swamp White (Quercus bicolor) and Pin (Q. palustris) lining a street nearby. I look up into them when I pass. The trees are young enough that the leaves are still within reach. Flies, ladybugs, aphids, galls can all be seen in the trees. This is recent sighting: the caterpillar of the American Dagger moth (Acronicta americana). They can be rather yellower as they grow. Here, several days later, is an even smaller one.

The New York Times finally gets around to an obit for Florence Merriam Bailey, author of what was probably the very first field guide for birds. Shall we review the gendering of bird-watching/birding?


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