Photo: Alison Hunter/Wiki Commons
But not all herbivores are repelled by dogbane toxins. If you ever encounter a pale brown caterpillar that looks like an escapee from a box of pipecleaners, and it's snacking on dogbane, it's apt to be the larva of the Delicate Cycnia (Sik-nee-ah), Cycnia tenera. The caterpillars of this moth are among the few species of Lepidoptera that have successfully battled through the plants' chemical protection.
The Delicate Cycnia seems to be pretty common and widespread in Ohio, and if you keep a watch, you're likely to encounter one.
Unexpected Cycnia caterpillars are clad in an incredible shade of soft orange that matches the flower color of Butterfly-weed to a remarkable degree. They'll eat other species of milkweed, and probably even dogbane, but seem most at home on the Butterfly-weed. I was delighted to have the opportunity to see this caterpillar, one of several that we found in a small prairie. It wasn't entirely unexpected, though, as I was with John Howard and he knew that they could be found in this spot.
There are two other Cycnia species. One, the Collared Cycnia, Cycnia collaris, is a westerner that doesn't make it as far east as Ohio. The fourth species is the Oregon Cycnia, C. oregonensis, and despite its distinctly occidental name, it does occur sparingly in Ohio. I've seen it once - I think - also in Adams County. Those photos are on another drive, or I'd slap one up.
Mothing is a fascinating pursuit, and Ohio moth'ers should be in for a few treats next year. A new publication on Buckeye State moths is in the works, and a scheme is afoot to hold what should be a real "Mothapalooza".