Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Cute and creepy caterpillars

My friend Lori invited me to come to her native plant greenhouse, Tennessee Naturescapes, today to see some interesting butterfly and moth caterpillars. I had been wanting to get a photo of a Spicebush Swallowtail Butterfly caterpillar for a long time. They are funny-looking little critters, they have large false eyes that make them look a bit like a reptile! These big black and yellow "eyes" are actually on its thorax, the true eyes are on its head which is tucked below. These are comical-looking caterpillars with their blue dots and fake eyes. As their name implies, they feed on Spicebush leaves.
Another, not so cute, caterpillar was feeding on leaves of a sumac bush. Lori said she had a run-in with one of these yesterday, it stung her when she accidently brushed against it, the pain lasted for over an hour. Saddleback caterpillars come with quite an arsenal of venom-filled spines. When I enlarged this photo (right) to sharpen it, I could see tiny drops of venom on the spines.

The moths that these caterpillars become are dark and evil-looking too!

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

A Friday the 13th visit from a "Sphinx", a carnivorous caterpillar and more

Some nights at the moth sheet are really slow with not many interesting ones coming for a visit. On Friday the 13th I was about to quit for the night because I wasn't seeing much, when I went out one last time, and there it was... this gorgeous Tersa Sphinx moth that had perched on the shutter on the carport window. It looks like a sleek, wooden jet plane. It was so large, it looked like a small bat! What a lucky "bad luck day" the 13th turned out to be!

Sometimes it takes a lot of nerve to stand outside with a head lamp on and having HUGE insects flying around my head (or sometimes landing on me!). This large green katydid zoomed past my head a couple of times before it finally landed on the sheet. I was happy to get a photo of his "ear", the little hole on his front leg. Insects are made a lot differently than we are, some of them taste through their feet, hear through their antennae or front legs, and they breathe through holes on their abdomens!

While I'm on the subject of strange insects, Kenny and I went to Ijams Nature Center in Knoxville on Sunday afternoon. As we hiked on a trail in the woods I spotted a greenbriar vine that was heavily infested with aphids. One section on the vine was clear, however. When I looked at that area more closely, I noticed a caterpillar that had been munching on the aphids. What an appetite that creature had! It seems strange for a caterpillar to eat other insects, but everything has to eat something! *** Update: Thanks to the folks, I found out this is a Harvester Butterfly larva (Feniseca tarquinius).

A few minutes later, we saw a bright red bird with black wings flitting around in the top of a tree. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to get a good photo because it was in the shade of some leaves. Just as I got a good shot lined up, a man came walking down the trail with his dog. When the dog saw my husband it started barking and the bird flew away! :( That was my first sighting of a Scarlet Tanager (Piranga olivacea)!