Monday, November 5, 2012


Despite countless admonitions from my mom to look out for snakes when we hit the trails, we're nearly always looking up. True, we do find the occasional bird slithering on its belly, but mostly, the things we're interested in are in the trees. And how much must we be missing! Entirely by accident, we (nearly) stumbled on a couple of exciting caterpillars several weeks ago, while we were exploring nearby Whitemarsh Preserve.

The first of these chunky grubs looked like it had seedling conifers sprouting all over the length of its body. These bright green fireworks made it so unlike any other caterpillar we've seen that it instantly jumped to the top of my short list for charismatic insect of the year (a distinction I've created in its honor). It wasn't until later that we discovered that this was an Io Moth (Automeris io) caterpillar. Not surprisingly (we certainly didn't need to be told after looking at it), the bristles are stinging to the touch -- woe to the dog who finds it along the walking trails! (Mythology tangent: the name Io is reference to the caterpillar's sting. Zeus, in trying to conceal Io from Hera transformed her into a white heifer; Hera, outranged, consequently sent a gadfly to sting Io into madness.)

Wandering away, and still high on our good fortune, we came across another awesome find - this time an Imperial Moth caterpillar. At first, we thought it may have been a Luna Moth caterpillar (we're anxious to find a Luna Moth of any age), but these plump little fella's hardly inspire disappointment. We did feel pity, though. We found him right in the middle of a well-traveled footpath, where he was evidently oozing viscera out one end. Unfortunately, its flashy colors couldn't catch the eye of whichever jogger or bicyclist it was who trod over it. 

And just a little ways away, we found another Imperial Moth caterpillar. This was was also right in the middle of the path, although, it seemed not to have been stepped on (yet). With the fate of its cousin fresh in our minds, we took care to move this one off to the side before any new tragedy unfolded. 

With any luck, we'll get to see either of these species as adults someday soon, short-lived as they are (both are members of the family Saturniidae, which have vestigal mouthparts and do not feed). We still have yet to find any saturniids in the wild.

In a somewhat related vein, we also recently visited the butterfly garden at the Savannah National Wildlife Refuge across the river in South Carolina. I mention this mainly because I took a photo of a Monarch chrysalis with my phone, which I'm particularly keen to show off (just look at how that dew glistens!).

And for good measure, also hanging about was an especially photogenic (because it was dead) Fiery Skipper. And that, I believe, neatly concludes our brief journey through the life cycle of the Lepidoptera.

1 comment:

  1. Wow... Guess now I will be saying watch out for the snakes,moths and caterpillars!! We will have to bring the dogs special io nose armour when we visit, yikes! As usual great pictures to go along with your adventure. Cute picture of maureen, and great phone pic of the fiery skipper!