Monthly Archives: June 2011

Acronicta lithospila

A. lithospila is one species unfortunately hit by the sickness that swept through my lots in the past couple weeks. Only a few species were affected, but they were some of my favorites. Just look how pretty this one was (last one, just passed away last night).

I decided to make a plush version to keep as another lab mascot (we already have a plush Euclea obliqua caterpillar and  a plush Hemerophila diva adult hanging around the bookshelves).

I tried to give it the characteristic humped resting pose. Unfortunately I could not muster the courage to sew dozens of little reddish brown spots on the head and scattered along the body. I think I will add some details with sharpies tonight, though. At least it has a cute face!

Guarding my babies.

I’m hoping to find the time and motivation to make plush versions of all the Acronicta species I am working with. They may or may not be offered for sale in my Etsy shop depending on how attached I get.

This is the sort of thing that gets me excited


From a beautiful Acronicta laetifica I collected during the blacklighting trip Sunday night. She laid well over 100 eggs for me… hoping for some darling little caterpillars in about a week.


I keep a notebook of everything I do at the lab. All measurements, observations, etc. Every few weeks I go through and transcribe my notes into detailed rearing notes in an Excel file for each lot (the caterpillars are in numbered lots to keep track of them). Right now I’m due for a good long note deciphering session, so to procrastinate from that, I give you… some sketches…

These are from early on, when my first batch of A. americana and A. oblinita were in their eggs. It seems like the flat edges around the eggs are used to hold their extra long setae.

This sketch is of an early instar Comachara cadburyi. They were green with white stripes – at this point they were finally starting to look like caterpillars and less like tiny lumpy green maggot-ish things.

A neat observation – a young A. americana was perched upside down on the wall of the container. It had to poop… so… it bent its body so its abdomen was dangling out in the air, and dropped a piece of frass to the ground. Little guy was conscious of not dropping frass on itself. Too funny!

I wish I had more time for sketches like these, I tend to write quite descriptions of behavior and move on to the next creature that needs my attention. We’ll see what inspires me next.

Bigger and bigger

I’m down to one luna moth caterpillar… he is getting to be quite a glutton.

You can see what he looked like as a young’n here and here and here.

Fuzzy butt

That’s what I like to call my Acronicta americana caterpillars…

They are getting so big and fluffy now! They are all in their final instar, might be getting ready to pupate soon. I think they might use wood in some way to help construct their cocoon, so I have them in a big jar with soft wood and leaves. Hopefully they find the situation suitable.

And speaking of growing up… my Acronicta oblinita babies are looking quite handsome.

This morning I found one of them had constructed a cocoon out of the willow leaves in their container – awesome! Waiting on the rest to follow suit.

My rearing efforts are getting more scattered – some caterpillars are big and need minimal attention, some are newly hatched and need measurements every day, I have some eggs waiting to hatch, and some adult females who will hopefully oviposit for me. I have a handful of eggs from an A. haesitata my advisor caught for me, a few are started to develop spots (normal for many Acronicta eggs, means they are developing properly), so that’s exciting. One A. hasta I collected laid three eggs for me last night, I wonder if she’ll give up any more? I really want to rear that species! Several of the females are so fat they look about to burst, so they’ve got to have eggs… I will give them more sugar water and perhaps set some up in the oviposition chambers I created.  Oh! And a few A. afflicta eggs hatched the other day, and 6 babies are getting settled in on oak, happily skeletonizing the leaves and thrashing their heads when I get too close. I am doing everything I can to ensure the virus (which hit my last batch of A. afflicta) does not reach them. Rearing them individually now, so that should help. Keeping my fingers crossed.

There’s always something exciting happening here. Well, exciting to me, at least.

On the nose

That’s where this ornery little garter snake bit me. On my nose. That’s what I get for holding it up to my face to get a better look and talk to it, I guess.

“Awwww, you’re a cute little snake, aren’t you!”

Look at that mischievous grin.

This Thamnophis sirtalis was about 12″ long, with teeth not big enough to break my skin. When I caught him (with one hand, not wanting to put down my beer) he musked me twice. Then I got the startling bite (he also attacked the camera a few times), but eventually he calmed down and we hung out for a while.

I simply adore snakes, maybe I will write a post about my babies sometime (I have a ball python, corn snake, and kenyan sand boa). I know, I know, I’m an invert person, but I have enough love to spare for all the scaly and slimy and chiton-y creatures of the world!

Sunset at the powerline

It doesn’t sound very romantic, but check this out!

This was our collecting spot last night. We set up several lights to draw in the insect life. Blacklighting is serious business for these guys (various lepidopterists who were in town for the Lep Soc meeting), and it was great fun to be surrounded by such experience and expertise. Scientific names were being thrown about like confetti, cameras flashing, whiffs of cyanide lingering in the air from the kill jars going into action.

Caterpillars were hunted by flashlight, swept into jars with a sprig of their host plant. Shouts and hollers over a rare or showy species echoed in the night, accompanied by scrambling through the brush to see what all the excitement was about.

I was able to nab a bunch of female Acronicta species, which I’m hoping to get eggs out of. And through our collective effort I now have six adorable Acronicta falcula in the lab. I’ll be taking high quality photos tomorrow, but here’s a shot in its habitat.

Despite not getting much sleep afterward, it was a good night.

For immature audiences only

This post doesn’t need much of an explanation (except that I’d check it out before deciding to let young wandering eyes over here – insect mating photos but no snarky commentary…)

Went on a collecting trip to Killingly, CT – set up blacklights and a mercury vapor light. We were aiming to collect moths (I got a handful of Acronicta species), but we attracted plenty of other visitors to the lights. Here are some of the insects that were… rather… busy…

Enjoy! (but not too much…) Read the rest of this entry

On the mend

My wrist might not be broken after all, just badly sprained. Another doctor said the strange bump on my scaphoid bone is probably a natural variation. And after a few days of pain medication and wearing a brace, I’m feeling much better. Hurrah!

Here I am in my Lep Soc t-shirt, and sporting a temporary tattoo of a tiger swallowtail, one of my favorite butterflies (mostly because they’re fun to chase).

Back in the lab tending to my babies (err… caterpillars…), and this evening I’m going collecting on a Lep Soc field trip. Hoping for some more gravid female Acronicta.

Lep Soc 2011

I’m at the Annual Meeting of the Lepidopterist’s Society at Yale for the second day of talks, it’s been fun so far! A little drowsy from pain meds for my wrist, but I’ve been having a blast meeting and mingling with so many great scientific minds. Skipped the blacklighting trip yesterday because of the weather (rainy), but I got two Acronicta ovata at my own blacklight last night, a new species for me – and one is a female, so I’m hoping I can get eggs out of her.

Should be another great day of learning and inspiration, I can’t wait til I have enough material for my own talk next year!

Ryerson Lab

Functional Morphology, Sensory Biology, Behavior, Biomechanics

I spell it nature

Trying to make sense of the world through science and language.