Saturday, September 19, 2020. San Juan Island, WA – Caterpillar rescue!
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.
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.
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.
I found this specimen ready to hitch a ride on the car window when I was leaving a dinner on Sunday evening, August 25, 2019. Time of sighting was 7:32 pm. It managed to stay on the window glass as we pulled out of the driveway, but blew off as we began our drive home.
This is a Brownlined Looper moth, Neoalcis californica in the family Geometridae and is the single species in its genus in North America. Its distribution ranges from Southern California to British Columbia. Adults can be found flying between March and October in the Pacific Northwest, but has been documented flying as late as December in California. Larvae of this species feed mostly on conifers, including Douglas-Fir, Western Hemlock, Western Red Cedar, Grand Fir, Lodgepole Pine (Canadian Forest Service) as well as many broadleaf trees and shrubs (USGS).
First described by American Entomologist, Alphaeus Spring Packard in 1871, this rather nondescript moth was initially named Boarmiacaliforniaria. A description by Packard is found in the Proceedings of the Boston Society of Natural History. Volume 13 https://archive.org/details/proceedingsbost07histgoog/page/n39 or view description attached below.
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.
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.
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!
I found this on the kitchen floor the other morning (August 20, 2019). It looked like a piece of tree bark had been tracked in. When I reached down to pick it up, I realized it was some sort of moth and one I’d not seen before.
After taking photos of it (it was expired when I found it), I thumbed through my reference books, trying to see if I could identify it. After about an hour of skimming literature and photos, I finally grew frustrated and emailed Merrill Peterson at Western WA University to see if he’d seen it before.
That afternoon, I did indeed hear back from Merrill. He’s fantastic about responding and said he had to reach out to someone he knew, but finally got an answer for me.
Here’s what Merrill said, “It’s a strange Hypena decorata, like this one. I had to get some help to figure it out!” I was glad Merrill helped solve the mystery and now I can share what I found out about this moth.
Hypena decorata is in the family Eribidae, within the superfamily Noctuoidea, the (Owlet Moths and kin). Hypena is Greek for “beard.” When you look at the fuzzy, long labial palms that project to form the moth’s snout, it does indeed look a bit like a beard.
According to the Bugguide reference, Lafontaine & Schmidt (2010) list 29 species of the genus Hypena in America north of Mexico. The moth is relatively rare to uncommon West of the Cascades, but found in southwestern British Columbia and western Oregon and Washington. Distribution records also show the species ranges to Southern California. Larvae are food plant specialists, feeding on nettles (Urtica spp.).
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.
It was breezy earlier this afternoon when I spotted this beauty feeding on my daisies. This is a Neophasia menapia – or the Pine White Butterfly. I’ve been worried since we’ve put up deer fencing that the butterflies wouldn’t be able to find their way through the fence into my flower garden, but I shouldn’t have worried. The butterflies ever-so-gracefully float over the top.
I’m sure the butterflies and other pollinators appreciate that my daisies aren’t headless amputees this year, courtesy of our resident deer who now can only gaze at them. It’s hard to understand why the deer would even want to eat those flowers because they’re kind of stinky. To my nose, they smell a bit of cat urine. Lots of insects seem to like those sorts of smells though. These daisies can stay outside. I won’t be displaying them in a vase on my dining table.
The Pine White Butterfly larvae feed on Ponderosa Pine and Douglas fir. Adults emerge typically between the months of July and October. Look for little green eggs on the needles of pines and firs sometime beginning in October. The eggs will overwinter and hatch sometime in June the following summer, coinciding with the emergence of new foliage on the trees. Larvae typically only feed on old needles, but can become a “pest” when they feed on the new needles and/or population levels are high and the tree is repeatedly defoliated. Natural controls help keep caterpillar populations balanced. Larvae pupate in late July for about 15-20 days before emerging as adults to begin a new cycle.
Would you like to read more? Check out the links I’ve added below.
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 Photographed July 10, 2016 San Juan Island, WA
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!
Lophocampa roseata larva Photographed October 6, 2013 by Cynthia Brast San Juan Island, WA
Lophocampa roseata larva Photographed September 26, 2018by Victoria Compton San Juan Island, WA
I love my catmint! The deer don’t like it, but pollinators absolutely DO! Every year, I wait in anticipation to see what visits the tiny purple-indigo flowers. I’ve had everything from hummingbirds to bumblebees, moths, and butterflies. Today, I took two short clips of the Pale Tiger Swallowtail (Papilio eurymedon) visiting the blooms. There have been as many as seven or eight fluttering about at a time.
I keep hoping to see my very favorite of the pollinators visiting the catmint, but have to make a point of going around dusk. It’s been a few years, but the catmint is also a favorite of the elusive hummingbird moth (Hemaris diffinis). Here is one I photographed in June of 2016. Also known as the Snowberry Clearwing moth, these fuzzy, large-bodied but nimble fliers are also called Bumblebee or Hawk moths.
Hemaris diffinis on Catmint photo by Cynthia Brast June 1, 2016. San Juan Island, WA
These were on the trail at American Camp, San Juan Island National Historical Park. One had unfortunately been stepped on. I recommend looking down at the trail when you’re on a hike as lots of insects seem to travel along it too! These are larvae of the Sheep Moth (Hemileuca eglanterina). Check out this link if you’d like to see what they’ll be as adults! http://pnwmoths.biol.wwu.edu/…/hemil…/hemileuca-eglanterina/Photos taken 08-VII-2017.
Sheep Moth larva (Hemileuca eglanterina)
Sheep moth larva (Hemileuca eglanterina), American Camp, San Juan Island National Historical Park. This one had unfortunately been stepped on. I recommend looking down at the trail when you’re on a hike as lots of insects seem to travel along it too! Check out this link if you’d like to see what they’ll be as adults! http://pnwmoths.biol.wwu.edu/…/hemil…/hemileuca-eglanterina/ Photos taken 08-VII-2017. Image may contain: plant, outdoor and nature