Tag Archives: caterpillar

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.

Mystery Eggs Hatch

They hatched!

Well, I was wrong in my theory about these possibly beingΒ Nepytia phantasmaria orΒ Phantom Hemlock LooperΒ eggs, so my next steps will be to review all my moth photos from early September to try and thread out any other possibilities. That may take some time. Initial observation (date eggs laid) was Sept. 12, 2021. Today is Oct. 7, 2021. They are indeed pretty tiny and if you look closely, you can see the caterpillar body rolled up in the eggs that haven’t hatched. The tree is a Caucasian Fir (Abies nordmanniana).

eggs on Caucasian Fir, San Juan Island, WA 09.12.2021
eggs on Caucasian Fir, San Juan Island, WA 09.12.2021
Eggs darkening – September 18, 2021 San Juan Island
They hatched! Oct. 7, 2021

Mystery moth eggs hatch – October 7, 2021

Thanks for reading! Stay tuned for further updates. I’ll do my best to figure out an ID for these. πŸ™‚

Caterpillar Rescue – Dagger in Distress!

Saturday, September 19, 2020. San Juan Island, WA – Caterpillar rescue!

Acronita impleta – Yellow-haired Dagger Moth caterpillar. San Juan Island, WA 09.19.2020


I found one of these several years ago (September 20, 2017 to be exact), so I recognized it immediately when I saw it squirming in the spider webbing along the house this morning. My husband said I should just leave it alone. “Nature is ugly sometimes and you can’t interfere.” Well, when it was still there four hours later, suspended mid air, and still squirming, my tendency to SAVE things kicked in. The spider living above that web was actually dead. I’m not feeling very guilty about stealing food from a dead spider.

Acronita impleta – Yellow-haired Dagger Moth caterpillar. San Juan Island, WA 09.19.2020
Acronita impleta – Yellow-haired Dagger Moth caterpillar. San Juan Island, WA 09.19.2020


I got a cup and gently pulled at the web and began the process of freeing this caterpillar. It took finding my reading glasses and getting some fine-pointed tools to gently ply away the sticky bonds and clean the strands off the caterpillar hairs.

Acronita impleta – Yellow-haired Dagger Moth caterpillar. San Juan Island, WA 09.19.2020
Yellow-haired Dagger Moth (Acronita impleta)


I think it looks pretty good! I even picked it some dinner and we’ll see if I can keep it healthy through pupation and adulthood.

Yellow-haired Dagger Moth (Acronita impleta)

More about Yellow-haired Dagger Moths here:

Thatch Ants Attack Caterpillar

I had my bearded dragon outdoors the other afternoon to get his 20 minutes of sunshine (me too!) when I spied something unusual moving in the grass. The object of my attention was a fairly large caterpillar lying in the middle of 25-30 voracious Thatching Ants (Formica obscuripes), intent on relocating the caterpillar (their dinner), even if they had to do it one bite at a time.

Observing them at work, I thought of how the Egyptian pyramids were built. Humans. Lots of them. Carrying those giant blocks and stacking them required formidable effort. Perhaps these ants in their orchestrated labor efforts would successfully lug this lepidopteran larvae back to their nest.

I did not stay and watch to the end. I watched just long enough and filmed this clip. I felt a bit sad for the caterpillar, wondered about the butterfly or moth it might have become, and I marveled a little about these industrious ants that cooperate for the collective benefit of the colony.

Ants are pretty amazing. 🐜🐜🐜

Stay tuned for more on Thatch Ants!

Silver-Spotted Tiger Moth (Lophocampa argentata)

I found this specimen at the Friday Harbor Post Office yesterday and picked it up to save in my collection. It’s a bit bird-pecked, but worth keeping for passing around at my upcoming insect talk at the library in October.

Lophocampa argentata Silver-spotted Tiger Moth
San Juan Island, WA
photo by Cynthia Brast-Bormann
August 27, 2019

Lots of folks emailed me earlier in the year with photos of caterpillars they were finding. The larval form of this moth looks like the two photos below, depending on the developmental instar.

Silver-Spotted Tiger Moth Larva Lophocampa argentata
Orcas Island, WA 98250
May 9, 2019
photographed by K. Rose
Silver spotted tiger moth larva Lophocampa argentata
San Juan Island, WA
April 26, 2019
photographed by L. Narum

These moths are fairly common throughout the San Juan Islands. The larvae feed on Douglas Fir (Pseudotsuga menziesi) and other conifers. The name, argentum comes from Latin referring to the silver spots on the wings of adults.

While larvae are defoliators, they are not usually present in high enough numbers to cause economic damage or require any chemical control. Also, while very pretty to look at, the caterpillars do have urticating hairs which can cause stinging, burning, or rash in sensitive people. Take a photo or observe them, but resist the temptation to pick them up!

Lophocampa argentata
San Juan Island, WA
August 27, 2019
photo by Cynthia Brast-Bormann
Lophocampa argentata
San Juan Island, WA
August 27, 2019
photo by Cynthia Brast-Bormann

White-lined Sphinx caterpillar (Hyles lineata)

I’m always excited when someone asks me to ID a bug for them! This came from the women over at Browne’s Garden Center – https://www.browneshomecenter.com/garden-center/, San Juan Island, WA. It’s the “black form” of the White-Lined Sphinx Moth (Hyles lineata). The larva are sometimes called Purslane caterpillars. They will eat Fireweed (Epilobium angustifolium), other fireweeds, and other various plants in the evening primrose family.

White-lined Sphinx Moth (Hyles lineata) caterpillar (black form)

Read more here:

http://www.silkmoths.bizland.com/Sphinx/hlinelin.htm https://bugguide.net/node/view/3071

Lophocampa roseata (Rosy aemilia)

I spent a good part of the day combing through my insect photos from the past 9 years. There are thousands. Finally, I found the ones I was searching for. I credit Victoria Compton on San Juan Island, WA  for helping me out on this one. She sent a photo the other day to my email with a caterpillar and had suggested an ID. Not only was she correct, but in ID’ing the caterpillar, it enabled me to match up one of my adult moth photos that had been sitting around nameless since 2016. The photos I found today were of the same caterpillar that had been a mystery to me since 2013. It’s a nice “aha” moment when you connect the dots! Below are the pics for you to see.

Lophocampa.roseata.July10,2016IMG_3310

Lophocampa roseata Photographed July 10, 2016 San Juan Island, WA


Photo0092

Lophocampa roseata larva Photographed October 6, 2013 San Juan Island, WA

This is a Tiger moth in the family Erebidae, subfamily Arctiinae. The scientific name is Lophocampa roseata (also known as the Rosy aemilia). It was first described by Francis Walker in 1868.  They are found in Western Oregon and Washington as well as in Southwestern B.C. and are associated with habitats of conifer forests and maple trees. The sources I checked list them as somewhat rare and Natureserve lists them as “critically imperiled.” So, I guess we have another beautiful Lepidoptera on San Juan Island to care for along with the Marble Butterfly!

***Critically imperiled Tiger Moth. Please post/email photos if you live in San Juan County, WA and come across one in the adult or larval stage.  Thanks! 

Photo0091

Lophocampa roseata larva Photographed October 6, 2013 by Cynthia Brast San Juan Island, WA


20180926_133138

Lophocampa roseata larva Photographed September 26, 2018by Victoria Compton San Juan Island, WA 

Helpful links:

http://explorer.natureserve.org/servlet/NatureServe?searchName=Lophocampa+roseata

https://www.inaturalist.org/taxa/224121-Lophocampa-roseata

https://www.butterfliesandmoths.org/species/Lophocampa-roseata

https://bugguide.net/node/view/247272

Lophocampa roseata larva
October 27, 2019
Three Corner Lake Road
Lophocampa roseata pupal case
Pupated 10-29-19

Lophocampa roseata larva
Found wandering in search of pupation site – October 27, 2019
San Juan Island, WA