Category: life cycle

On Insect Intelligence

People like me who spend a lot of time with insects tend to develop a bond with them. I get very attached to my caterpillars and the bugs in my yard, and watching their behavior sometimes makes you think there’s a brain in there.

And then… they do things like this:

This is a Variegated Fritillary butterfly. This is the first time I’ve ever seen one in my yard (I’m SO CLOSE TO 1,000 SPECIES!!!). She is laying eggs on the passion vine that is sprouting in my garden. I have a couple vines that have started up and are several feet long. Is she laying eggs on that one? No. She’s laying eggs on these. Repeatedly.

The Gulf Fritillary caterpillars I’ve raised can destroy an entire leaf in a few hours. *sigh* 

I guess when ya gotta go, ya gotta go.

She also laid eggs in the passion vine with the fire ant mound around it.

I pulled up this dinky little passion vine sprout and potted it. I’ll at least give these four little caterpillars a chance! Let’s see if I can grow this vine faster than they can eat it!

April 9, 2019

Regular

nanonaturalist:

nanonaturalist:

Incoming: A “different” kind of caterpillar!

I am overjoyed and elated to announce these beautiful eggs, which I found in some elderberry leaves I was about to feed the cecropias (elderberry is popular!)

And yes, I said in the leaves. Look closer:

Here you can see each egg underneath a thin membrane of leaf tissue. What kind of insect lays its eggs inside the leaves? Lots of them, but one, in particular, has been hanging out on the elderberry plant for over a week straight, loving life and drinking elderberry nectar whenever she wants:

It wasn’t until I uploaded photos to iNat that I realized she could have been the mother, since I thought she was a wasp I didn’t recognize. I wasn’t too far off: she is a hymenopteran, like wasps, but she is a SAWFLY. My friends over on iNat have identified her as being in genus Macrophya, and three species in Texas feed on elderberry. So I was right about my hunch that the eggs were sawfly eggs, even if I didn’t realize their mom was still hanging out in my elderberry bush!

The photos above were from Saturday. On Sunday, guess what?

An eye!!!

I’ve talked about sawfly larvae before, and how they look very similar to caterpillars (they are often confused). I’ve attempted to rear them before (a different species) when I had an infestation on a vine in my yard, but I’ve never found eggs before. Exciting! I just need to make sure they don’t destroy my elderberry bush, the cecropias have dibs!

March 31/April 1, 2019

The Hatchening

Oh! Where is the baby?!

Here’s a nibble, he can’t be far. Let’s turn over the leaf. Maybe he’s hiding.

!!!!!!!!!! A baby!!!!!!

He very much wanted to be hiding, so he was very crawly when I was looking at him. See how tiny??!

He’s making a grand escape!

I went to get some fresh leaves for him, and figured I may as well bring in some of his siblings (I know his mom left a ton of eggs back there). I stopped myself at ten.

Eeeeeeeeee!!!!

April 2, 2019

It’s Raining Sawflies

So, every time I get elderberry for the cecropias, I end up finding a handful more sawfly eggs. I have at least 20 now, and they are all starting to hatch! The babies prefer to stay curled up in a little spiral under the leaves, but as soon as I pick them up for photoshoots, they uncurl and run away. The first baby is HUGE now!

April 4/5, 2019

Regular

nanonaturalist:

nanonaturalist:

nanonaturalist:

Not even done hatching and already causing trouble

Who needs a groundhog when your stick insects start hatching before January is even over?! This one escaped from the enclosure with one of his feet still in his egg!

To be fair, it is sunny and warm this week. Like, Seattle people would be wearing tank tops and sweating if they were here (they all got a ton of SNOW!!), so I don’t blame the sticks for busting out. But they could have maybe waited for more of their host plants to have LEAVES maybe???

For those keeping track, this is Generation #3! I caught their grandarents as babies in my yard, back before I had any idea what I was doing. My iNaturalist profile photo is their grandma on my face!

Megaphasma denticrus stick insects, longest insect in North America!

February 4, 2019

*sigh*

That’s it I’m going to bed

February 5, 2019

**edit: I forgot to mention I have like 200 eggs SAVE ME**

Okay, no new escapees, that I know of, but I counted no fewer than 27 wiggling stick babies out and causing mischief. I added another branch from my rose bush, which involved getting stabbed with a huge honkin’ thorn. That thorn-impalement was the second time these babies have caused me injury (I sliced open my finger with a wayward x-acto blade while doing emergency egg-removal surgery on a dehydrated early-hatching baby).

At least they have *something* to eat. The weather here is confusing the trees. Last year, my plum tree was the first to awaken, growing flowers in March. But… my cypress is growing new leaves… now. It almost hit 80 degrees this week, but it’s dropping down to almost freezing tonight (everything’s bigger in Texas… yaaaayyy). So who knows when the hackberry trees will start leafing out.

February 7, 2019

A much belated update

The hackberry leaves are finally in, so feeding them is easier and less painful than giving them rose. One of the fun things about feeding them rose, however: a lot of them ended up being pink!!!

They are larger and much easier to deal with, but they are quickly outgrowing their habitat. I need to reach out to schools in the area and see if any of them want some free class pets, otherwise I’ll be releasing a bunch of them.

April 4, 2019

nanonaturalist: nanonaturalist: Went to grab…

nanonaturalist:

nanonaturalist:

Went to grab some quick food for the Cecropia caterpillars, and the leaflet I randomly picked to feed them had A BABY on it! I have no idea who this is, though with the hairs, I’m guessing a tiger moth of some sort?

Caterpillar season is HERE!!! I’ve got three species going now! Plus the stick insects. Let’s see how overboard I go this year (please not too much 😭). I am NOT planting more milkweed and it appears my plants from last year did not survive (*phew!*)

I love caterpillars but they are soul-draining vampires and I am compelled to serve them beyond my will. Save me.

March 27, 2019

Molting already

They grow so fast

March 29, 2019

Again and again!

Post-molt glamour shots from March 31 (so beautiful!). But of course, baby molted AGAIN two days later!!

Hmmmmm I have no idea who this could be 😉

Tiger moth of some sort, probably Virginian.

April 2, 2019

Regular

nanonaturalist:

nanonaturalist:

nanonaturalist:

nanonaturalist:

nanonaturalist:

nanonaturalist:

The Official Cecropia Moth Life Cycle Post™

Buckle in kids, this one should be exciting and full of drama.

It all started with a text message. A friend out in Smithville (i.e. further out in the country than me) found some giant caterpillars:

I dropped everything to go see them. I lovingly adopted one caterpillar (who would turn out to be the female), and was also gifted with a cocoon (which held the male), one of many my friend found in her elderberry bush.

Winter came and went, the moths emerged, and got to business right away. They didn’t seem to mind that they were probably siblings.

The female laid eggs.

After about 20 days, they started to hatch:

They hatched three days ago.

Which brings us up to today. Most of them are out of their eggs by now. And they have started eating. I offered them a choice. Elm (good for me, I have lots of elm), or elderberry (please no it’s a baby I don’t have enough elderberry for 50 cecropias please no).

Here’s their little mini-home:

Elm (light green) vs elderberry (dark green)

Guess what the turds picked?

Of course.

My current plan is to grow the elderberry as much as I can (does the elderberry have favorite foods? Can I give it a ritual sacrifice? ???) and then return some of the caterpillars to the motherland when things get too ridiculous. I’m sure my friend will be super excited about that. And I can play with her bees when I visit, too!

Stay tuned (*sigh*)

March 19, 2019

Are they bigger?? They haven’t started Munchathon 2019 yet, but they are warming up, for sure.

March 21, 2019

They are bigger (and turning yellow)!

They finally turned their hungry on!

Not all my eggs hatched, so my “50” is greatly exaggerated. Looks like I have 13 if no more eggs hatch. A little more manageable. I can sneak them treats from my plum tree if I need to stretch the elderberry.

March 22/23, 2019

Baby’s First Molt

Aaaaaaaaahhhhhhhhhhh!!!!!!!!!!!

I just came home to find my first 2nd instar baby Cecropia! This was them this morning:

I had a feeling they were about to pop.

When they’re getting ready to molt, they will put down a silk mat to hold onto with their old skin (think velcro), while they crawl out of it. Then they hold real still for a few hours while their new head squeezes out of the old one so they have a hole to climb out of.

Here is the mat of one getting ready to molt:

In some species (and for older caterpillars), it can be more obvious, but you can usually see the silk when light shines on it. Here is the same caterpillar (side-view):

The silk mat is a little more obvious here. See how he looks like a fat sausage ready to pop?! (*whispers* it’s cuz he is).

March 26, 2019

So large!

I can’t believe how fast they grow! Elderberry bush is still holding out.

March 30, 2019

Another Molt?!

After they molted to second instar, some of them turned out to be banana flavored (!). Very nice! They are growing FAST! The oldest ones are already starting their molt to third instar!

The two who are molting are hanging out on the lid. It’s hard to see through all their silk, but the one on the little window is squeezing out of his old face. They should all be green in the third instar. Going to need to upgrade their home soon!

April 1, 2019

Aaahhhhhh!!!!

!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

A couple more have molted as well, and a bunch more have started. This is third instar (there are five instars before this species pupates!).

This should be when they REALLY start to grow…

April 2, 2019

Regular

nanonaturalist:

Incoming: A “different” kind of caterpillar!

I am overjoyed and elated to announce these beautiful eggs, which I found in some elderberry leaves I was about to feed the cecropias (elderberry is popular!)

And yes, I said in the leaves. Look closer:

Here you can see each egg underneath a thin membrane of leaf tissue. What kind of insect lays its eggs inside the leaves? Lots of them, but one, in particular, has been hanging out on the elderberry plant for over a week straight, loving life and drinking elderberry nectar whenever she wants:

It wasn’t until I uploaded photos to iNat that I realized she could have been the mother, since I thought she was a wasp I didn’t recognize. I wasn’t too far off: she is a hymenopteran, like wasps, but she is a SAWFLY. My friends over on iNat have identified her as being in genus Macrophya, and three species in Texas feed on elderberry. So I was right about my hunch that the eggs were sawfly eggs, even if I didn’t realize their mom was still hanging out in my elderberry bush!

The photos above were from Saturday. On Sunday, guess what?

An eye!!!

I’ve talked about sawfly larvae before, and how they look very similar to caterpillars (they are often confused). I’ve attempted to rear them before (a different species) when I had an infestation on a vine in my yard, but I’ve never found eggs before. Exciting! I just need to make sure they don’t destroy my elderberry bush, the cecropias have dibs!

March 31/April 1, 2019

The Hatchening

Oh! Where is the baby?!

Here’s a nibble, he can’t be far. Let’s turn over the leaf. Maybe he’s hiding.

!!!!!!!!!! A baby!!!!!!

He very much wanted to be hiding, so he was very crawly when I was looking at him. See how tiny??!

He’s making a grand escape!

I went to get some fresh leaves for him, and figured I may as well bring in some of his siblings (I know his mom left a ton of eggs back there). I stopped myself at ten.

Eeeeeeeeee!!!!

April 2, 2019

Regular

nanonaturalist:

nanonaturalist:

nanonaturalist:

nanonaturalist:

nanonaturalist:

The Official Cecropia Moth Life Cycle Post™

Buckle in kids, this one should be exciting and full of drama.

It all started with a text message. A friend out in Smithville (i.e. further out in the country than me) found some giant caterpillars:

I dropped everything to go see them. I lovingly adopted one caterpillar (who would turn out to be the female), and was also gifted with a cocoon (which held the male), one of many my friend found in her elderberry bush.

Winter came and went, the moths emerged, and got to business right away. They didn’t seem to mind that they were probably siblings.

The female laid eggs.

After about 20 days, they started to hatch:

They hatched three days ago.

Which brings us up to today. Most of them are out of their eggs by now. And they have started eating. I offered them a choice. Elm (good for me, I have lots of elm), or elderberry (please no it’s a baby I don’t have enough elderberry for 50 cecropias please no).

Here’s their little mini-home:

Elm (light green) vs elderberry (dark green)

Guess what the turds picked?

Of course.

My current plan is to grow the elderberry as much as I can (does the elderberry have favorite foods? Can I give it a ritual sacrifice? ???) and then return some of the caterpillars to the motherland when things get too ridiculous. I’m sure my friend will be super excited about that. And I can play with her bees when I visit, too!

Stay tuned (*sigh*)

March 19, 2019

Are they bigger?? They haven’t started Munchathon 2019 yet, but they are warming up, for sure.

March 21, 2019

They are bigger (and turning yellow)!

They finally turned their hungry on!

Not all my eggs hatched, so my “50” is greatly exaggerated. Looks like I have 13 if no more eggs hatch. A little more manageable. I can sneak them treats from my plum tree if I need to stretch the elderberry.

March 22/23, 2019

Baby’s First Molt

Aaaaaaaaahhhhhhhhhhh!!!!!!!!!!!

I just came home to find my first 2nd instar baby Cecropia! This was them this morning:

I had a feeling they were about to pop.

When they’re getting ready to molt, they will put down a silk mat to hold onto with their old skin (think velcro), while they crawl out of it. Then they hold real still for a few hours while their new head squeezes out of the old one so they have a hole to climb out of.

Here is the mat of one getting ready to molt:

In some species (and for older caterpillars), it can be more obvious, but you can usually see the silk when light shines on it. Here is the same caterpillar (side-view):

The silk mat is a little more obvious here. See how he looks like a fat sausage ready to pop?! (*whispers* it’s cuz he is).

March 26, 2019

So large!

I can’t believe how fast they grow! Elderberry bush is still holding out.

March 30, 2019

Another Molt?!

After they molted to second instar, some of them turned out to be banana flavored (!). Very nice! They are growing FAST! The oldest ones are already starting their molt to third instar!

The two who are molting are hanging out on the lid. It’s hard to see through all their silk, but the one on the little window is squeezing out of his old face. They should all be green in the third instar. Going to need to upgrade their home soon!

April 1, 2019

Regular

Incoming: A “different” kind of caterpillar!

I am overjoyed and elated to announce these beautiful eggs, which I found in some elderberry leaves I was about to feed the cecropias (elderberry is popular!)

And yes, I said in the leaves. Look closer:

Here you can see each egg underneath a thin membrane of leaf tissue. What kind of insect lays its eggs inside the leaves? Lots of them, but one, in particular, has been hanging out on the elderberry plant for over a week straight, loving life and drinking elderberry nectar whenever she wants:

It wasn’t until I uploaded photos to iNat that I realized she could have been the mother, since I thought she was a wasp I didn’t recognize. I wasn’t too far off: she is a hymenopteran, like wasps, but she is a SAWFLY. My friends over on iNat have identified her as being in genus Macrophya, and three species in Texas feed on elderberry. So I was right about my hunch that the eggs were sawfly eggs, even if I didn’t realize their mom was still hanging out in my elderberry bush!

The photos above were from Saturday. On Sunday, guess what?

An eye!!!

I’ve talked about sawfly larvae before, and how they look very similar to caterpillars (they are often confused). I’ve attempted to rear them before (a different species) when I had an infestation on a vine in my yard, but I’ve never found eggs before. Exciting! I just need to make sure they don’t destroy my elderberry bush, the cecropias have dibs!

March 31/April 1, 2019

Regular

cablefucker69:

nanonaturalist:

nanonaturalist:

nanonaturalist:

nanonaturalist:

nanonaturalist:

The Official Cecropia Moth Life Cycle Post™

Buckle in kids, this one should be exciting and full of drama.

It all started with a text message. A friend out in Smithville (i.e. further out in the country than me) found some giant caterpillars:

I dropped everything to go see them. I lovingly adopted one caterpillar (who would turn out to be the female), and was also gifted with a cocoon (which held the male), one of many my friend found in her elderberry bush.

Winter came and went, the moths emerged, and got to business right away. They didn’t seem to mind that they were probably siblings.

The female laid eggs.

After about 20 days, they started to hatch:

They hatched three days ago.

Which brings us up to today. Most of them are out of their eggs by now. And they have started eating. I offered them a choice. Elm (good for me, I have lots of elm), or elderberry (please no it’s a baby I don’t have enough elderberry for 50 cecropias please no).

Here’s their little mini-home:

Elm (light green) vs elderberry (dark green)

Guess what the turds picked?

Of course.

My current plan is to grow the elderberry as much as I can (does the elderberry have favorite foods? Can I give it a ritual sacrifice? ???) and then return some of the caterpillars to the motherland when things get too ridiculous. I’m sure my friend will be super excited about that. And I can play with her bees when I visit, too!

Stay tuned (*sigh*)

March 19, 2019

Are they bigger?? They haven’t started Munchathon 2019 yet, but they are warming up, for sure.

March 21, 2019

They are bigger (and turning yellow)!

They finally turned their hungry on!

Not all my eggs hatched, so my “50” is greatly exaggerated. Looks like I have 13 if no more eggs hatch. A little more manageable. I can sneak them treats from my plum tree if I need to stretch the elderberry.

March 22/23, 2019

Baby’s First Molt

Aaaaaaaaahhhhhhhhhhh!!!!!!!!!!!

I just came home to find my first 2nd instar baby Cecropia! This was them this morning:

I had a feeling they were about to pop.

When they’re getting ready to molt, they will put down a silk mat to hold onto with their old skin (think velcro), while they crawl out of it. Then they hold real still for a few hours while their new head squeezes out of the old one so they have a hole to climb out of.

Here is the mat of one getting ready to molt:

In some species (and for older caterpillars), it can be more obvious, but you can usually see the silk when light shines on it. Here is the same caterpillar (side-view):

The silk mat is a little more obvious here. See how he looks like a fat sausage ready to pop?! (*whispers* it’s cuz he is).

March 26, 2019

So large!

I can’t believe how fast they grow! Elderberry bush is still holding out.

March 30, 2019

What region are you in? I’m in the midwest myself and my cecropias aren’t due to eclose until late April, and you already have third instar cats? Do you get two broods a year where you live?

Hello there! I am in central Texas (just outside Austin), and my caterpillars are still second instar. The Ladybird Johnson Wildflower Center’s eggs haven’t started hatching yet, so there is a variation in timing, even in my area. We do not get two broods a year, our cecropias make cocoons in late May/June and stay there until the next March.

I would like to share a great tool for tracking insect life cycles (especially if you don’t know if a species of interest has two broods a year!). iNaturalist! Check it out [link]:

That graph in the lower right corner? That’s a life cycle chart. Each color corresponds to a different life stage. Blue is adult moth, and orange is caterpillar. I have this graph filtered to just show data from Texas, because that’s where I am, and it’s clear that we only have one generation a year!

Compare that to the Polyphemus Moth [link]:

Look, two generations a year!

There is one issue with these charts, and it’s that they rely on people annotating their observations in iNaturalist with life cycle information (tagging their observations as “adult” or “larva,” etc). Anybody can tag observations, so when I want to know how many generations a species has, I’ll go through the observations from Texas and tag them, then check out the chart. It helped me figure out when to expect my Io moths to emerge!

Good luck with your moths! 

March 30, 2019

Regular

nanonaturalist:

nanonaturalist:

nanonaturalist:

nanonaturalist:

The Official Cecropia Moth Life Cycle Post™

Buckle in kids, this one should be exciting and full of drama.

It all started with a text message. A friend out in Smithville (i.e. further out in the country than me) found some giant caterpillars:

I dropped everything to go see them. I lovingly adopted one caterpillar (who would turn out to be the female), and was also gifted with a cocoon (which held the male), one of many my friend found in her elderberry bush.

Winter came and went, the moths emerged, and got to business right away. They didn’t seem to mind that they were probably siblings.

The female laid eggs.

After about 20 days, they started to hatch:

They hatched three days ago.

Which brings us up to today. Most of them are out of their eggs by now. And they have started eating. I offered them a choice. Elm (good for me, I have lots of elm), or elderberry (please no it’s a baby I don’t have enough elderberry for 50 cecropias please no).

Here’s their little mini-home:

Elm (light green) vs elderberry (dark green)

Guess what the turds picked?

Of course.

My current plan is to grow the elderberry as much as I can (does the elderberry have favorite foods? Can I give it a ritual sacrifice? ???) and then return some of the caterpillars to the motherland when things get too ridiculous. I’m sure my friend will be super excited about that. And I can play with her bees when I visit, too!

Stay tuned (*sigh*)

March 19, 2019

Are they bigger?? They haven’t started Munchathon 2019 yet, but they are warming up, for sure.

March 21, 2019

They are bigger (and turning yellow)!

They finally turned their hungry on!

Not all my eggs hatched, so my “50” is greatly exaggerated. Looks like I have 13 if no more eggs hatch. A little more manageable. I can sneak them treats from my plum tree if I need to stretch the elderberry.

March 22/23, 2019

Baby’s First Molt

Aaaaaaaaahhhhhhhhhhh!!!!!!!!!!!

I just came home to find my first 2nd instar baby Cecropia! This was them this morning:

I had a feeling they were about to pop.

When they’re getting ready to molt, they will put down a silk mat to hold onto with their old skin (think velcro), while they crawl out of it. Then they hold real still for a few hours while their new head squeezes out of the old one so they have a hole to climb out of.

Here is the mat of one getting ready to molt:

In some species (and for older caterpillars), it can be more obvious, but you can usually see the silk when light shines on it. Here is the same caterpillar (side-view):

The silk mat is a little more obvious here. See how he looks like a fat sausage ready to pop?! (*whispers* it’s cuz he is).

March 26, 2019

So large!

I can’t believe how fast they grow! Elderberry bush is still holding out.

March 30, 2019