The Bug Geek

Insects. Doing Science. Other awesome, geeky stuff.

Tag Archives: caterpillar

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.

Hey Geek, what’s this? (European Yellow Underwing, Noctua pronuba)

I really enjoy when people either send me good photos or, even better, bring me insect specimens to identify.  I am by no stretch of the imagination an expert ID-er, but I adore a good challenge and relish the opportunity to familiarize myself with a new insect.  

I generally have a pretty good “gut feel” for most of the more common insect groups…in other words, I can place an unfamiliar critter in its family or subfamily by eyeballing it (but can’t necessarily tell you WHY it belongs there…it JUST DOES).  From there, there are a number of excellent resources (books, field guides, online, etc.) that I like to use to narrow down the list of possible candidates.*

An online friend recently provided a photograph of a chubby little fellow who had hitched a ride indoors on one of her pets.  She lives not-so-very-far-away from me and experiences nearly identical weather/climate.  She was quite surprised to see a critter like this outdoors in January, although the day he came into her home, it was unseasonably mild (+6°C or so). 

Noctua pronuba, the European Yellow Underwing moth (larva)

The first thing my gut told me was: “Pesty”.   Then, “Cutworm”. 

It didn’t take me long to find a match: Noctua pronuba (Lepidoptera, Noctuidae), the European Yellow Underwing (generally called the Large Yellow Underwing in its native range).   I’m always rather tickled when I find moths of this ilk; I adore the bold yellow-and-black striped underwings sported by the adults.  It’s a wonderfully unexpected flashy bit of bug bling that seems out of character with the otherwise brown/black colouration of the rest of the animal. (Susannah at Wanderin’ Weeta has some nice pics of the adult moth).

Noctua pronuba isn’t native to Ontario; it’s indigenous to Asia and Europe where it is widespread.  It was likely introduced to North America in the early to mid 80’s and is now found coast to coast in both Canada and the U.S.  It is a generalist herbivore, attacking grasses, flowers and vegetables alike, and is considered by some to be among the worst garden pests.

An interesting tidbit: apparently, although the moth overwinters as a larva (caterpillar), it is known to venture out to feed on milder winter days.  Perhaps the January sighting of this critter was not so out of character after all!


* sometimes, despite (or perhaps because of?) my enthusiasm for this type of activity, I am TOTALLY DEAD WRONG and NOT EVEN CLOSE with my so-called “identifications”.  I therefore suggest this disclaimer should be construed as an open invitation to all readers to say, “HEY!  YOU THERE!  GET WITH THE PROGRAM! That’s not a _____________, it’s a _____________, dumb-head! DUH.”  (But maybe you could be a little nicer about it. Geeks have feelings too.)

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