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Posts Tagged ‘caterpillar’

In between rain showers yesterday, I spotted this Banded Woolly Bear caterpillar (Pyrrharctia isabella) at Huntley Meadows Park, my local marshland. Unlike this photographer, most of the wildlife seemed to be taking shelter from the rain, so I was particularly excited when I caught sight of this caterpillar as I was trudging through the wet, calf-high vegetation.

Folklore says that the width of the brown band is an indicator of the severity of the upcoming winter. I can never remember whether a narrow band means a severe winter or the opposite, but Google came to the rescue again and indicated sources that say a narrow band means a colder winter. If that’s right, we may be in for a mild winter, given the size of the broad brown area on this caterpillar. Of course, there is no real scientific basis for this folklore, but it’s probably about as reliable as the weather forecasters in this area, who are notoriously bad in predicting the weather. They claim that we live in a complicated meteorological area.

When I was photographing this caterpillar, I noticed that it had a number of water drops on its “fur” and I was happy to see that I was able to capture them. There is something magical about those little globes of water and light.

Banded Woolly Bear caterpillar

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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How many views does your average post get? WordPress has a strange way of measuring “views” and “likes” that I haven’t quite been able to figure out, but I consider a posting to be successful if it gets about 30 views. A really popular posting might get 50 views.

As I close out my retrospective look this week at my first two years of blogging, I thought I would share again the posting that, statistically speaking, is by far the most popular. Out of the 1200+ postings that I have done, only seven have over a hundred views and the second most viewed posting has 138 views. The posting below has had 371 views.

Don’t get me wrong—I like these photos of the fuzzy white caterpillar, but I certainly don’t consider them to be my best or my favorite images. How did I get so many views?

Not long ago, Leanne Cole, one of my favorite bloggers did a couple of postings on Search Engine Optimization (SEO) that included a discussion of some techniques to make your photos and postings more visible when people do searches with Google and other search tools. I think I may have inadvertently used some of these approaches with the caterpillar posting, because the majority of the views seem to have come from people who found the images as the result of a search, and not from readers of my blog.

I don’t put a lot of faith in statistics and they don’t count for much in my personal estimation of the success of a posting. However, I am by nature a very curious person, so I can’t completely ignore them, even if they seem a little crazy.

Complete text of my 3 August 2013 “Fuzzy white caterpillar” posting:

It’s hard enough to identify moths and butterflies when they are fully grown—it seems almost impossible to do so when they are caterpillars, like this fuzzy white caterpillar that I encountered today at my local marshland park.

The caterpillar had so much long hair that it was hard to see the actual body, which might have been quite small for all I could tell. It was crawling around in the cattails on a day that featured intermittent rain. If you look closely at the first shot, you can see little water drops near what I think is the area of the head.

The second shot may look like it was done with flash, but the darker background was caused merely by changing the settings on my camera and deliberately overexposing the image.

fuzzy2_blogfuzzy1_blog

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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We’re starting to get down to the last insects of the season, and fuzzy brown caterpillars are among the few insects that I still see. Some of these are Banded Wooly Bear caterpillars (Pyrrharctia isabella) that supposedly help tell how severe the winter will be, though I confess that I can never remember how you are supposed to judge, i.e. does a wide middle section mean a short winter or a long one?

When I first took this shot, I thought the subject was a wooly bear caterpillar, but the more I look at it the less certain I feel. There seems to be a black tip on only one end of the caterpillar rather than at both ends. Despite the uncertainty about identification, I really like the shot and the way that I was able to isolate the caterpillar from the background.

fuzzy_brown_final_blog

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Imagine how skinny this fuzzy white caterpillar would appear if its fur were “groomed,” like some of the dogs in my neighborhood. There is one fuzzy white dog, in particular, that looks huge, which I think is a Great Pyrenees. I was shocked one day when I saw that dog with closely cropped fur—it looked to be only half of its normal size.

For some reason, this caterpillar’s hair seems to be more tufted than usual, compared to similar caterpillars that I have seen. Maybe the hair is bunched because of the heavy dew or the way that the caterpillar slept. Clearly the caterpillar is having a bad hair day.

Do you think it could get away with wearing a hat to cover the bad hair?

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© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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This past weekend I came across a type of caterpillar that I first encountered last fall.  Its black, yellow, and white markings once again made me think of the Pittsburgh Steelers National Footbal League team that wears those same colors.

The sports pages of the newspaper currently are saturated with articles on football, so it’s only natural that I think in those terms (and I apologize to the rest of the world for any confusion caused by the fact that we Americans use the word “football” to refer to a game that doesn’t use feet much at all and use “soccer” to refer to the other “football” game).

I enjoy referring to this caterpillar as the Steelers caterpillar, though, of course, it has a “real” name, which I think is a Smartweed caterpillar (Acronicta oblinita). Some US states have state insects, so I wonder if the Steelers would welcome a fuzzy new mascot. This could be the start of a trend and a marketing opportunity—there are more than enough caterpillar types around for each team to adopt its own.

black_and_yellow_blog© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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Who makes up these crazy names? Freddy Krueger? Jason? Believe it or not, this colorful little caterpillar is called a Smeared Dagger Moth caterpillar (Acronicta oblinita). Someone obviously had been been watching too many slasher or horror films.

Fortunately, it has another name—it is also called a smartweed caterpillar.

colorful_blog

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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It was just starting to rain when some fellow photographers and I encountered a very strange-looking caterpillar. I couldn’t believe my eyes and was immediately reminded of the dogs in my neighborhood that sometimes wear colorful raincoats in inclement weather.

It turns out that this is a Saddleback caterpillar (Sibine stimulea), the larva of a type of moth. Once you get past the green “saddle,” it’s hard to miss all of the spines, which happen to be venomous. According to Wikepedia, stings by this caterpillar can cause swelling, nausea, and leave a rash that can last for days. Yikes! If I had known that in advance, I might not have leaned in to get a close-up shot of the head, though fortunately my 180mm macro lens allowed me to stay at a safe distance.

I can safely say that this is the most bizarre caterpillar I have ever seen. It’s hard to imagine that I can possibly encounter anything stranger than this, but my local marsh continues to surprise and amaze me.

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© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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It’s hard enough to identify moths and butterflies when they are fully grown—it seems almost impossible to do so when they are caterpillars, like this fuzzy white caterpillar that I encountered today at my local marshland park.

The caterpillar had so much long hair that it was hard to see the actual body, which might have been quite small for all I could tell. It was crawling around in the cattails on a day that featured intermittent rain. If you look closely at the first shot, you can see little water drops near what I think is the area of the head.

The second shot may look like it was done with flash, but the darker background was caused merely by changing the settings on my camera and deliberately overexposing the image.

fuzzy2_blogfuzzy1_blog

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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Looking down in the water, I was a little surprised to see a Banded Wooly Bear caterpillar (Pyrrharctia isabella) swimming, albeit not too quickly. He would slowly undulate his hairy body for a stroke and pause, and then repeat the process. It was fascinating to see the little air bubbles surrounding his mouth and the gentle ripples produced by his movement.

This caterpillar will almost certainly overwinter in his current state and pupate in the spring into an Isabella Tiger Moth. Bugguide notes that there are normally two broods, on that pupates in the summer and the other in the following spring. I have looked at some photos of the moth and can’t help but note that the caterpillar stage is a lot more attractive and interesting.

Wooly Bear caterpillar swimming (click for higher resolution)

Wooly Bear caterpillar pauses for a breath (click for higher resolution)

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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This past weekend I came across a caterpillar that I had never seen before.  Its black, yellow, and white markings somehow made me think of the Pittsburgh Steelers NFL team that wears those same colors. For now, I am referring to it as the Steelers caterpillar, though, of course, it has a “real” name.

I’m having trouble identifying it—it may be a Smartweed caterpillar, also known as a Smeared Dagger caterpillar (who makes up these names?), although it seems to be lacking the red coloration in the hairs that I see in most photos. If anyone can make a positive identification, please let me know. Who knows, maybe the Steelers need a fuzzy new mascot?

Pittsburgh Steelers caterpillar

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Does Halloween have an official insect mascot? Maybe we need an election, since it seems to be season for campaigning.

When I first saw this photo of a Cattail caterpillar (Simyra insularis) that I took a week ago, I was struck by the fact that its black and orange colors seemed perfectly appropriate for Halloween. (In a previous posting about this species, it was the pattern of the caterpillar that was its most notable feature.)

Does anyone else have a viable candidate? If so, post your photos and let’s make this a race!

Vote for me to be the official insect mascot for Halloween

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Some of my friends of Facebook think that I make up the name of some of the insects whose pictures I post. After all, can there really be an insect called the Handsome Meadow Katydid? Normally, the official names are so strange that there is no need to invent new ones.

Today, however, I decided to  make up a name for a caterpillar that my friend Cindy Dyer helped me identify earlier in the summer, when I did a posting entitled Patterned Caterpillar. The caterpillar’s real name is a Cattail caterpillar (Simyra insularis) and I photographed it this weekend at Huntley Meadows Park in Alexandria, VA.

This caterpillar’s black-and-white patterns are such a perfect match for those ubiquitous markings found on all products that I want to rename it as the Barcode caterpillar.  What would register if you scanned this caterpillar at the checkout counter at a store?

Cattail caterpillar (Simyra insularis)

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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The bright green leaves of the plants in the marsh have faded and most of the colors are more subdued than in early summer. Against that muted backdrop, I was surprised to come across a brightly colored caterpillar this past weekend. It looks a bit like the Cattail Caterpillar (Simyra insularis) that I photographed and described earlier this year, although the spiky red tufts are more extreme on this caterpillar. I think I can detect the prominent black and white pattern that was so visible in the image that I posted previously.

This is the first year that I have paid close attention to the cyclical changes in plants, animals, birds, and insects. I am excited to see what new species will come into my field of vision as we move through the fall.

UPDATE: I did a little more research and now think that this caterpillar is actually a Smeared Dagger Moth caterpillar (Acronicta oblinita).

Colorful caterpillar in late September

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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If you ever get invited to dinner by a Monarch caterpillar, you know what will be on the menu—milkweed. Monarch caterpillars consume amazing quantities of milkweed (and nothing else), growing over 2,000 times their original mass during this 14-day phase of their lives, according to Rick Steinau.

Almost everything you read emphasizes that milkweed is toxic to humans (and to animals), but scienceviews.com notes that native peoples all over the United States and southern Canada used milkweed for fiber, food, and medicine. The article warns that milkweed may be toxic “when taken internally without sufficient preparation.” It is especially fascinating to read of the medicinal uses of the plant. It was used to treat backaches and bee stings, to induce postpartum milk flow, and to deal with a variety of stomach problems. The Meskwaki tribe, according to the article cited above, even used milkweed as a contraceptive, that worked by producing temporary sterility.

Milkweed, however, contains cardiac glycosides that are poisonous to humans and livestock, but also may account for its medicinal effect.  Symptoms of poisoning by the cardiac glycosides include dullness, weakness, bloating, inability to stand or walk, high body temperature, rapid and weak pulse, difficulty breathing, dilated pupils, spasms, and coma. (It sounds a lot like being in love!)

I don’t care how well Monarch caterpillars can prepare milkweed, if they invite me over for dinner, I think I’ll probably refrain from eating and just watch them eat (as I did this past weekend). I love Monarch butterflies in all their forms. Nevertheless, I would take my cue from the artist Meat Loaf, who sang, “I would do anything for love, but I won’t do that.”

Monarch caterpillar feeding on milkweed

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I love examining milkweed plants, because I always find interesting insects there to photograph. Yesterday I spotted a tiny caterpillar on a milkweed leaf that I was pretty sure was a Monarch butterfly-to-be (Danaus plexippus). The colored stripes were very similar to the one whose photo I previously posted, but this one was significantly smaller.

I decided to do some research on the life cycle of the Monarch to try to find out why this caterpillar was so small. The website butterflybushes.com has a wonderful article on the development of the Monarch. I learned that the larva is so small when it hatches that it can barely be seen, but it then consumes its body weight in milkweed leaves daily (Don’t try that at home!). During the 9-14 day larval stage, the caterpillar sheds its skin five times. Obviously this little guy is in a much earlier stage of development than the previous one, who was probably about ready to move to the pupal stage.

Here are a couple of shots of the little Monarch caterpillar that I took with my Canon 100mm macro lens.

Tiny Monarch caterpillar at rest

Tiny Monarch caterpillar eating milkweed

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I love the graphic black-and-white pattern on this caterpillar that I photographed yesterday at Huntley Meadows Park in Alexandria, VA. The monochromatic pattern is wonderfully accented by the orange tufts with long white bristles. In this case, I am not too concerned about identifying this caterpillar—I am simply enjoying its colors, textures, and patterns.

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I came across this colorful specimen while on a nature walk at a local marsh. He was close enough to the edge of the path that I was able to set up my tripod and shoot with my macro lens, so I was able to get a reasonable depth of field.

I don’t have the slightest idea what kind of a caterpillar this is, but I really like his colors and all of the hairy, spiny things sticking out of his body (even if they made focusing a bit of a challenge).

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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This evening after work I returned to the site of yesterday’s adventures with the creature that I think is a bagworm caterpillar. Despite some heavy rain last night his sticks-and-silk abode was intact. I stood and waited, wondering if he would reappear.

After just a few minutes of waiting I watched as the bag started to shake and the caterpillar began to emerge from the bag. Unlike last night when he seemed a little coy, tonight he seemed to have shed all inhibitions (or was really hungry).

He rather quickly extended himself more than halfway out of the bag and began to chew on the lavender blossoms. That answered one of my questions from my last posting about whether lavender was a suitable host plant for a bag worm.

I managed to shoot him from a number of different angles to show some details of the caterpillar and the opening in the bag. I think that a couple of my shots captured the texture of the bag. My shooting time was really limited because after his brief snack the caterpillar returned to the comfortable confines of his sleeping bag.

I am sure that I will move on to other subjects eventually, but for the moment I remain utterly fascinated with my creature on the lavender plant. We are developing a relationship but I have not given him a pet name, at least not yet.

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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This evening I spotted something unusual hanging from a lavender plant in my neighbor’s garden. I like to visit her garden when I come home from work in the evening because there are always flowers and insects to photograph, many of which she photographs and features in her blog.

The strange object looked a little like a misshapen pine cone and seemed to be covered in pine needles and little twigs. It was hanging from the lavender plant, swinging in the gentle breeze.

Suddenly in front of my eyes the “pine cone” thing began to shake a little, an opening appeared in the top, and a caterpillar (I think that’s what it is) began to emerge. Fortunately I had my camera in my hand because I had been taking some shots of bees.

The caterpillar emerged only partially and then returned to the homemade structure. The opening closed shut, leaving no evidence that there was a living creature inside.

My preliminary research suggests this is a kind of bagworm, although it seems a little unusual for it to make its home on a lavender plant. Wikipedia indicates that there are many species of bagworms, including one whose pupae are collected as a protein-rich food.

I don’t know if you noticed the claws on this caterpillar in the close-up photograph, but I may now have nightmares about giant clawed caterpillars (to go along with the soul-sucking robber flies of a few days ago).

Close-up of bagworm caterpillar emerging

Stepping back to see the whole “bag”

Caterpillar has gone back inside

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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