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’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.
Enchoria lacteata (Packard) is a relatively small moth with forewings measuring only 0.9-1.1 cm in length. Adults have a remarkable zig-zag pattern on forewings made up of various shades of brown and buff. They are diurnal (daytime) fliers and emerge from late February to May. Sightings are often in grassy areas or edges of moist woodlands. Larval host plants are various species of miner’s lettuce, Claytonia (Portulacaceae). Check out the following link for more information on miner’s lettuce. It’s edible! https://www.ediblewildfood.com/miners-lettuce.aspx
Enchoria lacteata crawling onto my pruning tool.
Enchoria lacteata between my work glove and pruning tool
POWELL, JERRY A., and PAUL A. OPLER. Moths of Western North America. 1st ed., University of California Press, 2009.
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
Alucitidae or “many-plume moth” ~ Distinguished from other families of moths by their delicate wings, fringed like the “feathers of a peacock.” They are only 3-13 mm long, gray or brown in color, and lack abdominal tympana. They have filiform antennae, a well-developed proboscis and are nocturnal. About 130 species have been described but there are just three species in America north of Mexico. Read more about them in Moths of Western North America by Jerry A. Powell and Paul A. Opler.