Monthly Archives: June 2011

Pile of caterpillars

Here are my Acronicta afflicta… remember how they looked way back when? It was only May 31 that they were reaching the second instar… now they’re in their fourth and fifth, and looking quite different. The first few instars only last a few days each, but they’re slowing down now.

The afflicta are quite variable – I am observing many colors and shades among my approximately three dozen caterpillars. Some are more yellow, or more striped, or brown, or gray, or pink… bright yellow spines or more orangey brown… what fun!

Do you want to see one up close?
Why of course you do:

I am becoming incredibly inspired by my caterpillars. They have such interesting behaviors, beautiful colors and patterns, and of course they are all adorable. And luckily those spikes are all for show (well, at least insofar as they do not deliver venom) so it’s ok if I snuggle them a little bit. I… uh… well… I would if they were bigger! I think I should make some plushies modeled after Acronicta species.

Long Island – part 3

(this post describes events which happened on June 1st)

And now for some cool insects that aren’t caterpillars!

These are still lepidopterans, though… I mean hymenopterans… I mean… well… what do you think they look like?

Here are some reasons why these are moths (in the family Sesiidae), and not wasps (please pardon the fact that they are copulating). This is just my personal run-down, I’m sure there are more exact ways of defining the differences. But if you are in the field and just get to glance at a wasp-like insect, these are some things to look for.

Heck, it took me a few minutes to realize they were not wasps or sawflies. Luckily they were so busy (hehe!) they did not care that I was photographing them.

Now how about a big pretty beetle. Everyone likes beetles, right? Especially when they’re shiny. And adorable.

I think this guy is Strategus antaeus, please alert me if I am incorrect. They are big and LOUD. One of the undergrads thought he heard a toad rustling in some leaves on the ground… he pounced only to find this beetle! We ended up finding one more on the trip. Like most scarab beetles they are bulky, clumsy, and have sharp claws.

And here is a pretty little membracid I got my hands on. I am tentatively identifying it as Smilia camelus (I put up a photo on, it’s been moved to that species page but is awaiting confirmation by an expert). I don’t know much else about the species, can’t find very much online. If anyone has any insights about this beautiful creature, please share!

Long Island – part 2

(this post describes events which happened on June 1st)

Our mission was to find caterpillars, and we found lots that we did not need to collect. Here are a few of the fun species we came across.

This beautiful velvety beast is the Forest Tent Caterpillar, Malacosoma disstria. They can be damaging when they gather in large numbers, marching through the forest with big appetites (but not making nests like their close relative, the Eastern Tent Caterpillar). They feed on a variety of woody plant species, ranging from oaks and ashes to blueberries. They are so soft and fuzzy and pretty, it’s a shame they are pests!

Here is another gregarious species, the Buckmoth, Hemileuca maia. We found several clumps of them on the scrub oak. We were warned of their stinging spines, so I was careful to keep a safe distance. I am ridiculously sensitive to insect bites and stings, and I did not feel a desire to test these guys out.

I thought this caterpillar was so cute – Roland’s Sallow, Psaphida rolandi. What charming little spots and stripes!

There were many more, but those were my favorites. Unfortunately I did not get any photos of the Catocala caterpillars we collected, as they were swiftly sequestered into plastic jars to take back to the lab. Perhaps I’ll get a chance to photograph some of them while they are here in our care.

Long Island – part 1

(this post describes events which happened on June 1st)

Before this day, I had never been to Long Island before. I had no idea it contained so much open natural habitat, and that such interesting and rare wildlife lived there.

We took the ferry from Connecticut – me, my advisor, and three undergrad lab members. It was an adventure right from the start! I had never been on a ferry like that before. Exploring the decks, playing cards and buying delicious pretzels… soon enough we had arrived. We had to drive around to the bottom part of the “lobster claw” of Long Island, and went almost all the way to the end. We passed lots of vineyards, cute little towns, and expensive looking houses.

Finally we reached the scrub oak habitat, where we met up with some other scientists/collectors. In some places the oak and undergrowth was very thick, and in other places it gave way to sand and blueberries. I would love to visit this place during blueberry season later in the summer… mmmm…

As we approached the shore and the area got more sandy and grassy, we came across an unexpected plant… a cactus, Opuntia humifusa (thanks to Robert Pace for the ID). We continued to spot them occasionally as we wandered about, careful not to step on any of the small ones. I had no idea I’d ever see a cactus in NY!

Our entomological mission: to collect Catocala caterpillars (the adults are the beautiful underwing moths), and be on the look-out for Merolonche dolli. The Catocala were for my advisor’s research, and the Merolonche would have been for me (in the subfamily Acronictinae). They are fuzzy little black and red caterpillars which feed on blueberry and related plants. We used sheets and sticks and baseball bats to beat the vegetation and catch what fell, as well as slowly scanning the leaves for caterpillars. We managed to get a bunch of great Catocala, but unfortunately no Merolonche… perhaps next time!

Back in the saddle again

Sorry to disappear, but life needs balance (and that balance should include the Caribbean).
I am trying to recover from a collecting trip, a vacation with friends, and diving back into research. I had to leave my caterpillars in the care of a few lab members who did a great job, but I sure missed seeing some of my babies grow up!

Soooo I have some catching up to do. Some of these posts will be current, and some will be catching up on events that happened in the past week and a half.

Here is a sneak peak from one adventure…


I know you’re all dying to see photos of our Long Island collecting trip… but I have a habit of overbooking myself and I’m off on a week-long vacation with my friends tomorrow morning (we’re waking up around 3:30am, woo!). I might be able to get on here to update with snippets of tantalizing stories, but I won’t be back in full blogging force until I return around the 11th. So… sorry for the drought of caterpillar photos, but don’t worry, I’ll have some great stuff to share by the time I get back!

Mini adventure

I’m about to embark on a collecting trip with my advisor and a few members of the lab – we’re going to explore some rare habitat on Long Island. Apparently there’s a very rare Acronicta there… we’ll see if I can find it!

We’re going to be using beating sheets to look for caterpillars, and blacklighting at night for moths. Should be a blast.

Oh! And last night I got another A. lobeliae at my blacklight. Yay!

Ryerson Lab

Functional Morphology, Sensory Biology, Behavior, Biomechanics

I spell it nature

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