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Turbulent Phosphila - check!

Ah! The Turbulent Phosphila, Phosphila turbulenta! This zoot-suited little tube of goo is incredibly cool, at least in my estimation. And it was long a nemesis cat for your narrator. Ever since cracking David Wagner's epic tome, the Caterpillars of Eastern North America, and seeing this thing pictured on page 427, I wanted (badly) to see one. Certain animals resonate with me, I don't know why, and once I become aware of their existence the knowledge that they lurk out there occupies a bigger cranial department than most things that I should be thinking about.

For a number of years - probably about nine - after learning of this wondrous beast, my life was void of Turbulent Phosphilas. It wasn't like I didn't try. I'm totally hip to their host plants, greenbrier (Smilax sp.), which are quite common and I'd always give the thorny plants a once-over. I'd even ask people in the know, and hear things like "Yeah, they're pretty common"; "See 'em all the time" that sort of balderdash. But no one could put me on to the phosphilas.

Until last weekend. I got a note from Bill & Deb Marsh, letting me know that they had JUST seen a pack of Turbulent Phosphilas making mincemeat of bristly greenbrier at Cedar Bog. I had the narrowest of windows in which to shoot over there the following day, and made it in time to catch two of the caterpillars. Bill and Deb had seen dozens - this species is gregarious - but I figured they'd be quick to disappear, what with the need to pupate soon to arrive. When I got there a scant 24 hours later, most had apparently gone into the leaf litter or wherever it is that Turbulent Phosphilas go to cocoon through the long winter. Only this chap, and one other, remained from what I could see.

The caterpillar in the photo was working its way down the stem of its host plant, bristly greenbrier, Smilax hispida, and that's a prickly ordeal. If all goes well and it gets through the winter, it is fated to morph into a rather plain brown moth - certainly not nearly as flashy as its larva was.



Doug Marcum said…
Congratulations Jim! I totally understand that feeling about certain species that we REEEEALLLY want to see...I would imagine most naturalists are that way : ) I actually just had my first Saddleback caterpillars this summer and that was one that I wanted to see since I was like 12! What a glorious moment that is to finally meet with that creature!

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