|  Home  |   About us  |   Programs & Projects  |   Calendar  |   Birding  |   Blog  |   Get Involved  |

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Candid Caterpillars

A guest post by Scott Maxham

Last week I was out clearing Japanese knotweed from the riverside. Clearing knotweed can be a daunting task. It takes over large areas and deprives other plants of sunlight. While taking a much needed water break, a few feet away from the knotweed patch, I found a spiky surprise. This black red spotted caterpillar looked a bit menacing with the numerous spikes, but I was feeling adventurous and let him crawl into my hands. This caterpillar seemed ginormous after working with the tiny cecropia caterpillars we have been raising at the Nature Center.

Back at the Center Center Chip and I determined that I found a Mourning Cloak Caterpillar. Chip agreed that it was a big caterpillar and would probably be looking to pupate in the near future. Sure enough the next day we found the mourning cloak hanging upside down from the container it now calls home. If you’re interested you can see the mourning cloak pupae here at the Nature Center in our critter room.

The mourning cloak butterfly is one of the first to be seen in the spring. This is because it overwinters as an adult butterfly and does not migrate. They find safe spots in trees or logs to overwinter. The butterfly hibernates and when spring arrives the mourning cloak is ready to find a mate. The mourning cloak is unique in that it remains an adult butterfly for 10 long months. This is much longer than most butterflies live. Most butterflies will live for about a month. Even the migrating monarch butterfly will live a shorter life, usually around 7 to 8 months.
Photo by Jo Ann Poe-McGavin
I was lucky enough to find another caterpillar while out in the field. This caterpillar was a pale green color with an interesting single spike protruding out of it. The official name for this spike is a tentacle. At first sight the tentacle made me think the caterpillar was a mystical unicorn caterpillar. However, further investigation showed that the tentacle was located on the caterpillar’s rear end, not on its head. This time I found a snowberry clearwing caterpillar. The snowberry clearwing seemed content to be out and about so I left him in his natural habitat. I soon regret this when I did some research and found out the turn into a hummingbird like moth.

Yesterday Ken was out and about with the “Incredible Insects” summer camp. While they were out looking for bugs, they found a caterpillar that I consider incredible, but prefers to be called “splendid”. Ken and the kids brought back a pair of splendid dagger moth caterpillars! These caterpillars have a bit of fuzz surrounding them and change from green to brown when they are about to molt. They grow up to be stealthy moths that blend in with tree bark.

All these caterpillars have been a warm-up for the rapidly approaching Live Caterpillar Day at NBNC. This Saturday, July 26, between 11am and 4pm Sam Jaffe from the Caterpillar Lab will be coming to the Nature Center to show off his wonderful caterpillars. If you can’t make it to caterpillar day or can’t wait until Saturday to see caterpillars you can again stop by the critter room at NBNC. The cecropia caterpillars are plentiful and have grown to be much more colorful. Hope to see you Saturday at Caterpillar Day!


No comments:

Post a Comment