Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Some Interesting Caterpillars

If you've read previous posts on this blog you know that Captina is home to a rich diversity of both woody and herbacious plant life.  Since plants occupy the base of a food chain in an ecosystem we would expect an area with diverse plant life to attract diverse consumers as well.  One of the most fascinating primary consumer groups in the watershed are the caterpillar instars or larval forms of moths and butterflies.  Instars (caterpillars) hatch from eggs laid by adult moths and butterflies on host plants then sustain by consuming leaf tissue.  A single species may transform through several larval instar stages prior to becoming a winged adult which may take over a year's worth of time.  Thus overwintering in leaf litter on the forest floor is common among the caterpillars of this area.

Here are some of the more attractive caterpillars of the Captina Watershed.
A medium-sized caterpillar of the eastern deciduous forest the
pandorus sphinx Eumorpha pandorus is from the hornworm
family and exhibits an interesting arrangement of spots laterally
down its sides.  Note the black spot on its rear topside. 
Pandorus have a liking for poison ivy as a host plant which is
where this individual was found.  They are particularly fond
of new foliage and are about the size of an adult index finger.
Pandorus come in a range of color variants but most center
around a brown or tannish base.

The aptly named saddleback Sibine stimulea.  This individual
was found on a host black locust and yes those are some pretty
intimidating spines.  Some caterpillar species have evolved
amazing camouflage patterns to hide from predatory birds and
insects but the spines are a good backup plan if the trickery fails. 
Fully grown saddlebacks measure up to an inch in length
and can pack a punch with those venomous stingers. 
(Caution! Saddleback stings have been likened to those of
bees.  It is not reccomended that you handle one if found)

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