Red boots, yellow mohawk
April 16, 2010
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I took a stroll in an open, sunny field that opens to one side of my usual woodlot trail. The dogs dashed about with glee on the mostly dry, brown grasses, milkweeds and goldenrods that lay dead and flattened from the weight and cold of winter snow. Here and there little sprouts of new green life pushed through the brown mat. I focused my attention on those lively bits, scanning them for hints of herbivory or out-of-place spots of colour that might reveal a critter.
It didn’t take too long:
This fuzzy-wuzzy fellow was chomping away on fresh blades of grass, and didn’t mind at all when I laid down next to him to take a closer look. This is a very fashionable caterpillar. He wears red boots:
And sports a shaggy Emo-hair-in-your-eyes-type ‘do complete with yellow mohawk.
With a striking getup like that, it was simple enough to ascertain his identity: it’s a caterpillar of the only Ctenucha moth found in my region – the Virginia Ctenucha (Ctenucha virginica). Now, I’m pretty sure that I’ve met this caterpillar before, only it looked much yellower. Although the yellow-white-black colour combo is pervasive in all individuals, the amount of yellow vs. black colouring seems to vary wildly. It has been suggested that the darker morphs (like mine) are more commonly found in the cooler spring; the dark hairs absorb the heat of the sun and contribute to thermoregulation. The yellower morphs are more common in the warmer summer, when the lighter hairs are more useful for keeping cool.
I see scores of the adult moths around my home during the summer. They are diurnal (day-active) moths, and unmistakable: dark unpatterned wings support a body of iridescent blue and bright orange thorax…the head is capped with impressively plumose antennae. BugGuide has some nice pics of both the caterpillars and the adult moths…worth checking out!