Sunday, June 1, 2014

Caterpillar program, next Sunday in Cleveland

A flurry of moths congregates under a night light. Prominent among their ranks is a large showy Luna, Actias luna, one of the world's best known moth species. The vast majority of Ohio's 3,000 or so moth species - and especially their caterpillars - are far less well known.

I am giving a program on caterpillars and their intricacies next Sunday, June 8th, at 2 pm at the Cleveland Metroparks' Rocky River Reservation, in the beautiful Rocky River Nature Center. It is free and open to all. Details can be found RIGHT HERE.

An as yet to be identified "inchworm", or Geometer looper caterpillar, photographed late last night in the remote depths of Adams County, Ohio. Note the animal's uncanny resemblance to a twig, and how it has spun silken support struts to anchor it in position. It is quite easy to overlook such masters of disguise, which of course is precisely the idea.

Birds probably drive much of the evolution of this sort of fantastic mimicry. Without caterpillars, we could kiss most of our songbirds goodbye. In spite of caterpillars' astonishing ability to hide, birds and other predators find and eat the vast majority.

A gorgeous Straight-lined Plagodis, Plagodis phlogosaria. In general, very few moths ever develop to this stage. They are eaten by predators in the caterpillar phase. Caterpillars make the world go 'round; they are the largest group of herbivores by a long shot.

Head on with an irritated Giant Swallowtail caterpillar. It has flicked a formidable set of horns from its head - they are known as osmeteria. Osmeteria are like slimy foul-tasting and smelling biological switchblades, and are a last-ditch deterrent to ward off predators. Caterpillars have an amazing bag of tricks to avoid being eaten.

If that Giant Swallowtail caterpillar makes it, it will morph into our largest butterfly, Papilio cresphontes.

Beyond bizarre is this moth caterpillar, the Monkey Slug, Phobetron pithecium. It is thought to mimic a shed tarantula skin. There's a great story behind this one, which is at least a locally common species here in Ohio, where of course we have no wild tarantulas.

If you can make the Rocky River Nature Center next Sunday, I'll look forward to seeing you. Following the talk, uber-birder and naturalist Jen Brumfield and I will lead a walk around the grounds looking for anything and everything for those interested. Again, CLICK HERE for all of the details.

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