Hungry caterpillars

Ugh. Why do these creatures always test my already poor identification skills?

I assume the caterpillar below is a black swallowtail even though it is not nearly as green as every other picture of a black swallowtail caterpillar ever taken in the universe would suggest. Maybe they become more green as they age.

Papilio polyxenes caterpillar (probably)
Papilio polyxenes caterpillar (probably) photo taken 5/28/2014

If I gather the courage, I will wade through the mosquitoes later to see if I can find a chrysalis.

A slightly less welcome caterpillar …

genista
Genista broom moth Uresiphita reversalis photo taken 5/21/2014

These guys love the tender bits of the Texas mountain laurel (Sophora secundiflora) which around here is often called the grape kool-aid tree since that is exactly what the blossoms smell like in the spring. My mountain laurel never really had a chance to flower this year. Just before the blossoms were about to open there was an fierce wind storm that turned the flowers into dried up purple bits. They crumbled between my fingers when I touched them. Optimistic note: this year I won’t have to step on the rock hard beans that normally lie in wait for bare feet. When my son was a young Lego builder I became adept at avoiding that particular kind of surprise but that was many years ago and my feet are losing their sixth sense.

I assume the picture shows a genista broom moth. They are frequently described as green but this one and his rather large posse were clearly more red than green. They are a pest but I kind of like his magic eight ball head.

Last is a picture of what I have come to call the Cousin It Caterpillar

Hyphantria cunea
Hyphantria cunea photo taken 5/0/2014

Again, another tricky identification. I spotted this caterpillar on a hackberry growing near the stream. This time it wasn’t the colour that tripped me up but the time of year. The common name for Hyphantria cunea is the fall webworm moth but I took this photo early in May and the caterpillar looks like it is just about ready to cocoon. Plus, it was really large. If I had been brave enough to risk touching its ‘fur’ it would easily have stretched across the palm of my hand. When I think of web worms I see those tiny caterpillars in a sac of webbing. Does each one really get this big? Amazing.

As always, if you happen to know the real names for this creatures I welcome correction.

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15 thoughts on “Hungry caterpillars

  1. You have so many lovely butterflies that we don’ t have here and such exotic looking caterpillars.
    I love your header. Is this a special sort of duck or an ordinary duck having a bad hair day?

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  2. Wow – I feel you on the ID trickiness. I’m always struggling with matching images I can find identified that never quite align with the image on hand. As to that first cat, I remember reading those caterpillars get greener as they get older. So yours is probably just a youngster and I think you got the ID spot on. Same goes for the second one – I’ve seen those in my own yard in the past on our Mt. Laurels. As for that third guy? I’m wondering if that isn’t some sort of tussock moth? I don’t think webworms get that big and I’ve never seen only one. The tussock moth caterpillars I’ve seen online have dark tufts but maybe this is another case of a cat that hasn’t reached full coloration? I know one thing – I wouldn’t touch it, either!

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    1. I think this identifying business must be some kind of art form. Even today the little star spiders I see all the time decided to change colours. Today I saw two and they were both white with black spots.
      I was wondering if Cousin It might be a tussock moth. Thank you.
      Of course sometimes it helps to notice what plant the bug is feeding on but really … a hackberry … what doesn’t eat hackberry? I really think I need to take an extension course on identifying arthropods.

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  3. Cool caterpillars, but I think that black swallowtail cat should be in MY garden, damn it. I like the Cousin It caterpillar Looks a bit like a character from Dr. Seuss or Sesame Street.

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