About a month ago my neighbour calls round (he hit 80 this year and is as fit as a fiddle), and in the palm of his hand he had this little critter. He wondered what it was (he really has an interest in wildlife), and he thought it had fell from a bush he had cut back. I identified it as the larva for the moth the Pale Tussock (Calliteara pudibunda).
Later he came around again with another he had found on his apple tree. They feed on a large variety of deciduous trees and shrubs, and I was quite amazed to discover, like paint, they come in a variety colours, from yellow, green, to orange, pink and red. Don’t think they do any shades of blue though.
Below is the familar adult, which I have featured before, which is also quite an odd yet interesting character. Who would have thought that, that would turn into that, eh?
In case you was wondering, the caterpillars where put back safe and sound to continue their feedathon.
There are two very similar ‘dagger’ species in Britain, the Grey Dagger (Acronicta psi) and the Dark Dagger (Acronicta tridens). The adults cannot be accurately identified visually without genital dissection and microscopic scrutiny – but I don’t like to harm them so this adult would be recorded as an aggregate species Acronicta psi/tridens. The adult is readily attracted to light, and is seen in June and August in most habitats, including woodland, hedgerows and gardens. Sadly its numbers have significantly decreased in recent decades.
The caterpillar is quite an odd thing, and on first discovery I thought it had been parasitised! But the long and prounced ‘hump’ or fleshy projection is one of its defining characteristics and which visually separtes it from the Dark Dagger (Acronicta tridens) which has a shorter ‘hump’. A visually striking moth larva with long hairs and a yellow or white dorsal strip. The orange side patches offer quite a contrast in colouration. It feeds on a large range of broad-leaved trees and shrubs, and overwinters as a pupa amongst bark, in rotten wood or in the ground.
Lasiocampa quercus – I came across this striking hairy caterpillar as it crawled over a sea wall when I was on a visit to Llandudno, Wales. They do not feed on oak as the English name leads us to believe, but its cocoon looks much like an acorn. The hairs may cause skin irritation, which is the caterpillar’s defense mechanism. They can grow up to 80mm (3 -1/8in) long.
The larva can take a year to grow in the south, and two years further north where it is cooler. They feed quite rapidly and change appearance as they grow which can make them hard to identify compared to other Eggars. It feeds on a variety of plants, including heather and bramble.
No wonder the birds don’t fancy eating them and the Ragwort in the fields is teeming with these brightly coloured caterpillars of the Cinnabar (Tyria jacobaeae), a moth which can be seen flying amongst the grasses during the daytime, especially when disturbed. Please see the adult last in line below.
Noctua comes – This moth caterpillar almost turned a darker shade of oak on Saturday when I was staining my back fence. Thankfully I spotted it in time and relocated it near a similar foodplant opposite, stopping to take a few snaps of it. The image below shows it rolled up in defensive mode, making it look less like a caterpillar to a prying bird. The head is in the centre with its suckered, almost toothed feet (prolegs) and front legs (true legs) like fingernails wrapped around it. Double click for a better look.
It may have just come out of winter hibernation (or I inadvertently woke it up). It is not a fussy eater and will feed on a range of bushes, trees and herbaceous plants. It tends to feed at night, then hides from predation during the day. It will eventually pupate underground before becoming the adult.
The weather has finally picked up this Easter holiday week, and the sun showed up and persuaded me to get busy in the garden. I lifted the top of my bird bath and what should I find hiding beneath in a finely woven silken retreat, but this larva of some species or another. I did not wish to disturb it any longer, so I took my shots and covered it back over again.
It does look rather snug in there. Imagine having a bed and duvet like that?
Mint Moth (Pyrausta aurata) – I discovered this caterpillar yesterday feeding from a silken retreat on my Water Mint. The larvae feed on all kind of Mint, but this one has taken quite a chance, for the Water Mint is growing in my garden pond, and this caterpillar has found itself on one tall spike in the centre of it. Good job it is well anchored by its silken threads. Believe it or not, but some caterpillars can swim, but not all can.
This happy caterpillar will grow up into a noctuid moth one day. Apparently the larvae are rarely seen, feeding on various herbaceous and woody plants during the night and remaining concealed on the food plant during the day.
Large Yellow Underwing (Noctua pronuba). Rear garden, Staffordshire, England. April 2017.
I spotted this tiny caterpillar on a leaf of one of my rose bushes (this one seems to get a lot of caterpillar attention of various kinds for some reason), and it was weaving itself a little silk shelter of sorts.
I discovered this brightly coloured hoverfly larva on my sweet pea doing its duty and eating an aphid. This one is not very big in size, but they come in all manner of shapes, sizes, patterns and colours, depending on the species. One thing is that those species that eat aphids have a huge appetite for them, helping the gardener keep the pest aphids at bay.
Update: Thanks to Mick E Talbot at his fabulous blog ‘My Garden Diversity’, who has helped me identify this hoverfly larva as Meligramma trianguliferum. Below is the only photo of the adult I have, which was taken in 2013.
It’s amazing how things can change in just one week, especially if you are an insect. Last week I posted ‘Balancing Act’, which showed these caterpillars in an early stage of development, and after one week of almost continuous feasting on my rose-bush leaves how they have grown and changed.
These are Large Rose Sawfly (Arge pagana) larvae, and how bright yellow and distinctly marked they have become within just a short period of time. They can grow up to 25mm in length. By the end of this month they will have dropped from the rose leaves to bury themselves in the earth. Pupation will take place in a very short time, and at the start of August the brightly yellow coloured adults will emerge to begin the cycle over again.
Another species of sawfly on my roses, and I believe these may only be young instars. There are two species of large rose sawfly in Britain, this species being the more common of the two, the other being Arge ochropus. Sawfly have good balancing skills, and to ward off predators they jerk their tail ends around in the air.
The adults, which I have seen flying around the garden, are quite distinctive and have bright yellow abdomens. The female makes a tiny saw cut in plant tissue in which she will lay her eggs. The resulting caterpillars will feed in groups, and they can strip leaves quite rapidly if in large numbers.
Two to three generations of Large Rose Sawfly maybe produced from May to October. They are seen in parks and gardens, also hedgerows, anywhere where rose occurs. Common and widespread.
Photographs taken July 2016, rear garden, Staffordshire.
Whilst deadheading some roses in the garden, I came across these happy pair which had virtually munched their way through a whole rose-leaf. It is called Arge nigripes.
Notice how the one has it back-end in the end. This is a tell-tale sign that these are not your normal moth or butterfly caterpillar, but the larva of a species of sawfly. If disturbed they will whip their tails around to ward off predation, sometimes spraying a foul chemical. Another way to tell is that they have six or more prolegs, a few more than their lepidopteran friends.
They are quite gregarious creatures, so I guess I am fortunate to just have the two of them, as far as I could see. Although I did spot a bunch of other sawfly larvae shortly after, rapidly consuming fresh rose shoots, but that’s another story.
This one here is almost quite cute as he hugs the leaf and almost appears to smile …
In large numbers sawfly larvae can become a serious pest, but thankfully they appear to be doing but a little harm to my roses. And when viewed from above it has quite beautiful pale and dark green stripes running the length of it, and a darkish brown stripe on its head.
Sawflies belong to the order of insects called Hymenoptera, same as the bees, wasps and ants. Adult sawflies are harmless and do not sting. The females cut through plant tissue to lay their eggs inside. And the result are these hungry caterpillars.
Photographs taken July 2016, on rose-bush, rear garden, Staffordshire.
I came across this caterpillar near my local pond on sedge. It feeds mainly at night in April to July, feeding on the buds at first and then the leaves. It feeds on a wide range of vegetation, including trees, shrubs and herbaceous plants. It overwinters as a pupa in a cocoon underground, with the fully formed adult inside it.
Photographs taken June 2011, local pond, Staffordshire.