Tag Archives: Calscape

Creepy Evil Cutworms?

What adjective would you use to describe a cutworm? Perhaps pest? Something like the evil caterpillar, Mister Mind, one of Captain Marvel’s archenemies in the DC comic strip series?

If you’re a gardener, the name “cutworm” may conjure up an evil worm that wants to eat your vegetables.

If you have a lawn or own a golf course, cutworms may be the gremlins that destroy turf grass. Now personally, I think five year olds should make policy around cutworms because there aren’t many five year olds who actually WANT to eat their veggies. They’ll see reason in defending the cutworm gremlin.

I’m not a golfer, and don’t have a lawn, so I personally don’t care too much if cutworms munch turf grass. Those sites should be classified as biohazard sites right along with nuclear waste if you ask me. They’ve had so many chemicals dumped on them over the years, they can’t be anything but noxious, environmentally toxic sponges.

Seriously, stop for a moment and Google “cutworm.” What pops up? Ads for every sort of pesticide imaginable. There may a be one or two advertised as “Safer” (yep, that’s a brand name), or natural, but they are designed with the same, single, solitary mission. Nuke the cutworm.

How many average American citizens do you think, can really distinguish between one sort of cutworm or another? Did you know the name, cutworm, is used to describe the larval or caterpillar form of a whole grouping of Lepidoptera that fall into the family Noctuidae?

If you’re really into bugs, or you are an entomologist (like me), then you also might know that the family Noctuidae has another name. These so-called cutworms (some are also called army worms) are the OWLET MOTHS. Why do you think? Well, because when they grow up, they look so unbelievably cute – like owls. Also, like this one! I named him Henry!

Henry is the cutest little dude around. His scientific name is Stretchia muricina. I think that name sounds a little bit Italian to me, but he’s not part of the mafia. Actually, Henry looks more like a teeny little lion or maybe even like Orson the Wheely Bird in Sid and Marty Krofft’s late 60’s TV show, HR PufnStuff.

Seymour the Spider and Orson the Wheely Bird – HR Pufnstuf

Whatever YOU see when you look at Henry, you’ve got to agree that he’s cute.

Henry (Stretchia muricina), an Owlet Moth

Henry used to be a cutworm. People are trying to kill him!

Henry isn’t a horrible garden pest though. When Henry was a caterpillar, he was more interested in eating a bit of your native currants. Sure, we all love to look at the beautiful flowers on our currants in the springtime, but he didn’t eat the flowers. He just ate a few leaves. There aren’t many cutworms like Henry. Just a few. They aren’t the same as the massive hoards of army worms that show up in the grass, or the cutworms that want to enjoy your newly sprouted veggies.

It’s pretty tough for a regular person to positively ID a caterpillar, so Henry recommends resisting the urge to grab that powder, spray, or torch. Don’t judge all cutworms to be evil. There are some tools you can take advantage of to help you sort caterpillars. Take a look at these links below and embrace diversity in the world. Caterpillars have feelings too!

  1. Calscape.org https://calscape.org – Lists plants and invertebrates associated with plants. While some may be out of our region, many do overlap. Extremely useful. I wish WSU had one of these sites!
  2. Caterpillar ID https://www.caterpillaridentification.org
  3. Caterpillar ID Washington State – https://www.caterpillaridentification.org/caterpillars-by-state-listing.php?reach=Washington
  4. Washington Native Plant Society Caterpillars https://www.wnps.org/blog/some-washington-caterpillars
  5. Pacific Northwest Moths http://pnwmoths.biol.wwu.edu
  6. Washington Moths https://www.butterflyidentification.org/moths-by-state-listing.php?reach=Washington
  7. Bugs of the San Juan Islands https://www.facebook.com/groups/bugsofthesanjuanislands
  8. Stretchia muricina species page http://mothphotographersgroup.msstate.edu/species.php?hodges=10473
  9. Stretchia muricina Bugguide species page https://bugguide.net/node/view/134890

Check out the rest of Henry’s adorable photos here. I found him last night hanging out on our deck. He was afraid of me at first and actually played dead (the entomological term for that is Thanatosis, so you can impress your family and friends). Once Henry figured out I had no intent to harm, he decided to pose and show off a bit. After his photoshoot, Henry went back to his spot on the wood siding.

It’s all connected! Know your Ecosystem – Butterflies and Moths Love Ocean Spray (Holodiscus discolor)

We all love butterflies and moths, right?

Did you know Ocean spray is one of our native plants? Lots of folks don’t even know this and label it as “invasive,” or a “fire hazard,” then rip it out of the ground to replace it with non-native ornamentals or worse, leaving the formerly healthy, forested understory devoid of vegetation.

Image from – http://nativeplantspnw.com/ocean-spray-holodiscus-discolor/

Did you know?

Here’s a bit of historical trivia – Ocean spray is sometimes called Indian arrowwood because Native Americans made use of its straight hardwood branches for arrow shafts. They also used oceanspray for treating viral and skin diseases. Other names for this plant are Holodiscus discolor, ironwood or creambush. There is actually a novel phenolic component in the plant called Stilbene a Xyloside that has been associated with varied biological and medicinal activities.

Some reasons I’d like you to appreciate Ocean Spray….

  1. It is a larval host plant to some of our native butterflies and moths. These include the beautiful Pale Swallowtail (Papilio eurymedon), Spring Azure (Celastrina sp.), Lorquin’s Admiral (Limenitis lorquini), and Gray Hairstreaks (Strymon melinus). One particularly notable one here on our island is the delicate Fairy Moth (Adela septentrionella). Calscape (California Native Plant Society) lists 14 confirmed species of Lepidoptera associated with Ocean Spray (and 23 as likely) for a total of 37 species native to the state of CA. I could not find published studies for this in WA state, but link the Calscape page here https://calscape.org/plantleps.php?hostsloc=california&species=Holodiscus+discolor
  2. Ocean spray provides cover and forage for wildlife. Birds, small amphibians, and deer rely on native plant species like Ocean Spray that make up part of the forest understory and are a component of a healthy ecosystem. Fire-scaping may be on your mind, but one way around this is to look at installing adequate water cachement around your home to help keep vegetation from drying out and dying in late summer and fall. We want to live in the forest, but if we remove the native understory, we risk altering the landscape even more and losing these beautiful creatures!
  3. Ocean Spray flowers provide pollen and nectar for native bees! 🐝
Fairy Moth – https://bugguide.net/node/view/26749

Read more about Ocean Spray here:

https://www.researchgate.net/publication/222005193_A_stilbene_xyloside_from_Holodiscus_discolor_bark

http://nativeplantspnw.com/ocean-spray-holodiscus-discolor/

https://blogs.oregonstate.edu/treetopics/2016/07/14/shrubs-wildlife-oceanspray/

Thanks for reading!