The Bug Geek

Insects. Doing Science. Other awesome, geeky stuff.

Forgotten Photo Friday – a cryptic caterpillar

I still have no idea how I spotted this among all the lush, green September foliage blanketing the edges of a forest path:

Cryptic caterpillar (topside)

I suspect my eye was drawn to the bits of missing leaf that indicated insect damage (usually a good place to look for bugs).  This critter was chewing its way up the midrib of the leaf, being careful to align its body perfectly with the smaller veins, disguising its body as just another part of (albeit damaged) plant.  This is a wonderful example of cryptic camouflage: the animal uses its colour, shape and behaviour to blend in with its environment, thereby escaping the sharp eyes of its predators.

The view underneath was pretty interesting, too. It revealed that the animal was actually holding TWO leaves in place, managing somehow to line them up nicely enough to fool the eye into seeing a single unit of greenery when viewed from above:

Cryptic caterpillar (underside)


Edited to add: Ok, ok.  Dave called me out on my “ID” of this animal (or perhaps lack thereof). This is in fact the larva of a sawfly, which is a type of wasp – the biggest hint as to its identity is the number of prolegs (also, the head capsule is pretty typical of sawflies).  However, “Cryptic Sawfly Larva” does not nearly have the same alliterative resonance as “Cryptic caterpillar”, so I took creative liberties. So there.

10 responses to “Forgotten Photo Friday – a cryptic caterpillar

  1. Adrian D. Thysse February 3, 2012 at 11:41 AM

    The little green pig…two leaves at once! 🙂

    Well spotted! I take it ID is out of the question?

  2. Ted C. MacRae February 3, 2012 at 12:16 PM

    I see you’re adjusting to the use of flash nicely – very good lighting.

    • TGIQ February 3, 2012 at 5:55 PM

      Thanks, Ted! My only regret is that I have few live subjects right now 😦 But I’m still getting some white box practice with pinned critters! I hope to get even better after another round of BugShot 😀

  3. Dave February 4, 2012 at 11:45 AM

    Re live subjects: go subniveal! Borrow a Berlese funnel and try digging out some forest or even backyard litter from under the snow. If you fill the bottom third of your extraction vial with plaster of Paris-powdered charcoal mix (7:1 by volume is good) and wet it up after it sets, then you can do live extractions easily.

    I’m still processing my sample from aspen parkland two weekends ago, but I have 8 species of beetles (Byrridae, Carabidae, Cucurlionidae, Dytiscidae, Elateridae, Hydrophilidae, Staphylinidae) and a great rhyparochromid bug (Scolopostethus thomsoni) that would be fitting macrophotography subjects – although none are giants. Then there are 3 microhymenoptera (scelionines), 4 species of spiders, 3 of thrips, an ant (Leptothoraxa), and so far uncounted springtails, mites, and even a Geophilus centipede.

    PS – seems like a lot of prolegs on that caterpillar – could it be a sawfly?

    • TGIQ February 4, 2012 at 1:58 PM

      Dave, that sounds like a fun idea! I may have to give that a try.

      And yeah, that could definitely be a sawfly…the head capsule made me think of one … I chose to be vague in my ID because…well, I’m not sure. 😀

    • TGIQ February 4, 2012 at 9:45 PM

      Ok, ok. I ‘fessed up. I added some text to clarify 😛 Thanks for keeping me honest 🙂

  4. Pingback: Rethinking guild classifications for insect herbivores | Arthropod Ecology

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