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Crawlies of our garden

Larval lifeforms

The ones that most fascinate my boys - the weirder-looking the better.

This little fella was as bright white as I've ever seen a caterpillar (must not taste too good - lousy camouflage!). It was racing around our veggie garden one day, but didn't find anything tasty, so it decided to leave. It may be an albino yellow woolly bear moth larva.

This one is even hairier, and not quite as white. While the one above looks kinda cute, this one looks fearsome! Virginia tiger moth - Spilosoma virginica

This, I've been told, is the caterpillar of the Virginia tiger moth (Spilosoma virginica), whose adult form is mostly white with a few black speckles. Its caterpillars are often called yellow woollybears (see more examples above).

How do you like its bitey bits? Salt marsh moth caterpillar: Estigmene acrea

With a wild mane and impressive biting parts, this caterpillar reminded me of a diminutive lion – but it is in fact a youngster of the salt marsh moth (Estigmene acrea), helping itself to a few bites of jewels of Opar (Talinum paniculatum). The adults are strikingly patterned moths, with orange abdomens and white wings spotted irregularly with black – but I have yet to see one.
Texas, May 2022 Gypsy moth caterpillars: Lymantria dispar

Pictured here are just two of a whole cluster of caterpillars hanging out on the underside of a branch on our flowering plum tree. They are larvae of the gypsy moth, which is native to Eurasia. They were introduced into the United States in an attempt to use them for silk culture. After they escaped captivity, they have been spreading across the United States, where they do considerable damage to forests. Penn State University fact sheet
When I found a zillion of these guys decimating my Lysimachia punctata, I had hopes of benevolently sustaining an interesting butterfly or moth population. Turns out I had a bunch of larvae of the sawfly species Monostegia abdominalis on my hand – sure enough, they feed exclusively on loosestrife. With their blue-gray coloration they were quite the fascinating creatures.
Sawfly larvae sure are a destructive bunch! This time it was the hardy hibiscus that was skeletonized, by who other than young'ns of the hibiscus sawfly (Atomacera decepta). hibiscus sawfly larva atomacera decepta
Peridroma saucia: variegated cutworm moth larva

Intricately patterned caterpillar. As it turns out, it's a bad guy, at least as far as gardeners are concerned: the variegated cutworm, offspring of a brownish moth also known as the pearly underwing. Widely distributed across North America and Eurasia.
Striking velvety caterpillar with bold coloration, most likely a yellow-striped armyworm (Spodoptera ornithogalli), which grows into a not quite so bold-colored moth.
black swallowtail caterpillar - papilio polyxenes Young'n of the black swallowtail (Papilio polyxenes). Although the adult would be considered more beautiful (judge for yourself at my butterfly page), baby is kinda handsome in its own way.
monarch caterpillar - danaus plexippus


Munching on milkweed (in this case, swamp milkweed, Asclepias incarnata) just like it should, this was our first monarch caterpillar sighting of 2009, on August 1st. The little fella is playing a game of peek-a-boo!
Wow dude! Nice do! Found this one on a milkweed plant, and sure enough, it's the caterpillar of the milkweed tussock moth (Euchaetes egle). From what I've read, it's common to find plants just crawling with these caterpillars, I only saw the one. Milkweed tussock moth caterpillar - euchaetes egle
fall webworm Hyphantria cunea Found this one crawling on a devils-bit scabious (succisa pratensis). It's a fall webworm (Hyphantria cunea), probably in its last travels before pupation, after growing to its largest caterpillar form inside a silk web shared with its many siblings.
Since our tomatoes are mostly spared destruction by tomato hornworms (Manduca sexta), I actually find the sporadic sightings quite interesting. Pardon the picture of its back end - but the horn is really its most photogenic part. The adult is a greyish-whitish moth, not nearly as exotic-looking as its babies. tomato hornworm - manduca sexta
sweet potato hornworm - Agrius singulata

This dandy is another hornworm, this one of the sweet-potato variety, which hopes to grow into a pink-spotted hawkmoth one day. I found it roaming on our community farm plot, where indeed we had grown sweet potatoes (I had recently harvested them and removed the abundant foliage – quite likely dislodging this chomper from its food source.
Texas, November 2021 saddleback caterpillar Acharia stimulea

Nifty small saddleback caterpillar (Acharia stimulea), aspiring to grow up to be a smallish black moth one day. It was probably a hitchhiker on a tree we purchased at a nearby nursery. Supposedly its sting packs a punch - I opted not to put it to the test.
Pennsylvania, September 2008

bagworm moth psychidae - protected

We see these little stick structures all around, but until recently didn't know who was responsible for them. Another type of moth, it turns out: bagworm moths (family psychidae) build these surprisingly tough dwellings out of silk and plant debris. The larvae live there for a long time, emerging only to eat. bagworm moth psychidae - exposed

Multi-legged ones

Centipedes and millipedes, that is. Centipedes have one pair of legs per body segment, millipedes have two pair. I usually encounter these ground-dwelling critters while digging around in my soil, and seldom have a camera to operate with my grimy hands - so not so many photos. But here are a few, anyway:
I'm amazed - I found this guy (a soil centipede) sneaking through my clay soil, and relocated him to a rock to shoot his picture. He's perfectly clean - my dirt doesn't stick to him. Why don't my kids have that useful property? soil centipede
soil centipede lithobius forficatus Fewer segments and legs on this one, but just as shiny. This stone centipede, in the lithobiomorpha order, was also crawling around in our soil. It was identified as Lithobius forficatus on BugGuide, based on specific antenna and segment plate (tergite) details.

Even more legs - although I won't vouch for a thousand. Some kind of millipede, anyway. greenhouse millipede: Oxidus gracilis

This is most likely a greenhouse millipede (Oxidus gracilis). Native to Asia, it hitchhiked into North America and is now common in all of the continental United States. This one had taken refuge in some curly endive harvested from the garden one day in early July. house centipede

I found this thing of beauty in our kitchen sink one day – the sides were just a bit too slippery for it to crawl up and out, which is probably a good thing, because I can only imagine the screams of terror that would have ensued had my dear wife or daughter come upon it in a less confined area. In any case, I dispatched it to our patio, and later learned that this is a house centipede (Scutigera coleoptrata), apparently quite common, even though it's the first one I recall seeing in nearly 20 years of living here.

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