Saturday, March 3, 2018

Caterpillars, Cocoons and Moths

Since we left you last, the majority of our spotted caterpillar world has gone dark.


While we waited on these seven to emerge as the beautiful, red-winged Spotted Oleander Caterpillar Moth

Number Nine and Mr. C were still chomping away. 

Then a couple of days ago, sadness hit when Mr. C came down sick and passed away.
We are not sure what caused it.  Possibly a bacteria of some sort.  Or it could have been his difficulties eliminating frass as he hadn't gone in a few days.
We'll never know but it was a very sad day indeed.

So far, Number Nine is still going strong, has actually begun to grow and molted again just last night, although he still remains mostly spotless.

Speaking of growing...

The back porch tomatoes have started to look edible!

There are a few other things on the back porch that Nicole  has been keeping an eye on.  She discovered them one day on the tomato plants and promptly removed them.

What a size difference!  We have no idea where they came from but we're pretty sure they were already in the soil we purchased at the store.

As usual, curiosity got the better of her and Nicole could not just release them into the wilds. 

So, she set up a habitat but they were not behaving like her spotted oleander caterpillars.  They liked to hide underneath the paper-towels during the day

and only came out at night to eat.  They were pudgy, smooth and their frass was a complete mess compared to that of our little orange ones.

There was some learning to be done.

On the spotted oleanders the caterpillar head is pretty much always there but on these it is known to disappear behind the camouflage of those spots that look like eyes but are not.

They have a variety of colorings though all seem to have the same black markings.

This variety led to an initial identification of Variegated Climbing Cutworm.  But true identification was still in question so

when one of them decided to pupate, it seemed like a good idea to wait until it hatched to firm up the identification.

                                        A spoonful of pudgy caterpillar cuteness.

At one point, Nicole thought that her night crawlers had escaped since she found three on the porch outside of their container.  When she later discovered three cocoons and three still eating she realized that she had just missed those extra three during the first collection. 

In order to better monitor hatchings, the three dirt dwelling cocoons were moved to a separate container.

It hasn't been long now and we've already had two moths emerge from the dirt. 

Yes, this particular caterpillar likes to bury itself, cocoons and pupates under the dirt and the moth when it emerges literally crawls out of the dirt.

This surprise was found one morning.  What pretty colors.

Now an official ID could be made.

As it turns out, this particular patterning (which reminds Nicole of the carpet in a Vegas Casino) is pretty distinctive and indicative of the Armyworm family. 

And, the colors on ours narrows it further to the Sweetpotato Armyworm.

Meet Spodoptera dolichos.

So, there you have it!  So far, we have released two of these to the front porch light. 

They were gone by morning. 

Hopefully, they left of their own volition and not via a predator.

With two being released, this got Nicole thinking about how to tell if they are male or female.  Apparently it is fairly obvious in the pupa stage.  So, Nicole pulled the two from the recently hatched Sweetpotato Armyworm Moths and took some photos.

Here is what she found out....

There are some shape differences.  The one on the left is more narrow and the abdominal segments distinctive.  The one on the right is wider and the abdominal segments are not so obvious down low and also the divisions between them tend to sweep upwards (like an upside down V).

The genitalia is the key though.  The anus is typically in the same place but the rest of their "goods" are distinctively different.

Here is a different angle.  Can you tell who is who?



Did you guess male in the first photo and female in the second?  If so, you were right.

Oh, we had a surprise when we returned home this afternoon!

There were two winged things on the roof of our Spotted Oleander Caterpillar box.

We introduce you to Empyreuma pugione...  The Spotted Oleander Caterpillar Moth.

Hatch #1

Hatch #2

Do you notice anything different about them?  We are pretty sure one is a male and one is a female but with five more to hatch we don't want to disturb the area to check the pupae yet.  So, it is all speculation based on physical differences at this point.

Release time... back to the oleander farm.

Nicole initially thought that the palms across from the oleanders was a good place for them to finish drying their wings. 
This one thought differently, promptly took off, did a big loop and then landed on the oleanders.

So, it was straight to the oleanders with the second one.

Forty two days after their initial hatch from the egg, released under a beautiful blue sky. 

Once these begin to lay eggs the cycle of their life will be complete.