The aforementioned ash played host to a very special species of caterpillar; one of the Holy Grails among the tubular crowd. In fact, three of the caterpillars were present! It was a species that I had sought - as much as one can knowingly seek such things - since I learned of its existence. As with many finds, there was a significant amount of luck and serendipity involved, but to our credit, we were out after dark and actively seeking caterpillars, so we did work for it. I saw some fresh leaf damage on the ash, went in for a closer look, and Voila! I think you'll see why we thought this find was so cool. Read on...
Caterpillars of Eastern North America, states this about his first encounter with a Harris's Three-spot: "When my son Ryan first pointed out a Harris's Three-spot caterpillar to me, I dismissed the animal as a spider, even after he urged a second look."
I can easily see how one might do that, in the field and in the gloom of night. Had I not already been familiar with the animal from studies, and aware of what to look for, I may well have dismissed it as something else as well.
To make these photos, we transported the caterpillar into the Fernald Visitor Center (amazing building!) where we could create better images. The caterpillar was later taken back to the same tree upon which we captured it. As we photographed it, a tiny fly or wasp alighted on the leaf stem the caterpillar was on. I'm not sure what it was, but it did seem interested in the caterpillar. As soon as the insect lit nearby, the caterpillar flailed it away. It was a quite remarkable performance and I still am mystified how the cat even knew the other insect was there.
Maybe, somewhere, Harris's Three-spot caterpillars and moths are commonplace and people in that magical land tire of them. But insofar as I know, it is a rarity and a thrill to encounter.