Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Caterpillars and moths

I've got moths on my mind, and probably will for some time. The giant lepidopteran fest known as Mothapalooza will do that. We saw so many species in so many different groups of organisms at Mothapalooza that I could write about it and share photos for weeks, probably.
But I'll not do that. Life goes on, and I'll soon be immersed in new adventures, and seeing new things. I do want to make two more posts about the Mothapaloozian weekend, though.
This little charmer was a crowd pleaser, and we were lucky in that several of these outrageously fuzzy beasts appeared at the mothing sheets. It is the Black-waved Flannel Moth, Lagoa crispata, a well-named animal. The moth appears to be covered in flannel of the softest sort, and its sides are adorned with wavy black stripes. It reminds me of a tiny winged sheep. And check the antennae on this moth! It is a male, and I can only imagine its ability to sniff out female pheromones is magnificent.

We also had some luck finding caterpillars at Mothapalooza, although I had to dip into my archives for this shot. It's the caterpillar of the Black-waved Flannel Moth, and although we didn't find one during the event, I made this shot two years ago very near one of our mothing stations.

The caterpillar also has a certain charm to it, looking somewhat like a turtle covered in shag carpet. They aren't rare, and when afield during flannel moth caterpillar season, you'll want to take care as to where you put your hands. These caterpillars pack a brutal punch, being adorned with powerful stinging hairs. Touch one wrong, and you'll probably learn a painful lesson that won't soon be forgotten.

Scroll between the caterpillar and the adult flannel moth, and there is some resemblance.

We felt fortunate indeed to be able to find and show many of the Mothapaloozians this wonderful larva. It is the state endangered Unexpected Cycnia moth, Cycnia inopinata, and its caterpillars are highly cool. Not just cool - highly cool. For one, they're orange. Two, the cats are adorned with miniature forests of pencil eraser-like hair tufts. The forwardmost tufts are elongated into spectacular plumes. The animal suggests a larval Liberace, all feathered and boa'd up for a show.

Conspicuous as these two caterpillars may be in this shot, when on their (seemingly) preferred host plant's flowers, they are not nearly so obvious. That's because Unexpected Cycnia caterpillars often nosh on the orange flowers of Butterfly-weed, Asclepias tuberosa, and then the cat's coloration causes them to blend well with the surroundings.

Unlike the preceding Black-waved Flannel Moth, the adult Unexpected Cycnia little resembles its caterpillar. It, too, is quite beautiful, but in a completely different way than is the caterpillar. Scroll between the two, and it doesn't even seem as if they would be related.

This disparity between caterpillar and moth is one of the great pleasures of studying these organisms. It's almost as if every species is made up of two species: caterpillar and moth.


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