Sunday, September 14, 2014

hooded owlet ~ 09/14/14 ~ at home

hooded owlet moth caterpillar prolegs (+ aphids)
Cucullia sp.

Yesterday, we walked down Oceanview above the Rec Trail with hopes to spot and cheer on my cousin Bob while he ran the last leg of the PG Triathlon.  We found Bob in the race... and a couple brightly-colored caterpillars on the same tall stalk of roadside weed.

Cats were fresh on my mind, because I had just received an e-mail from Gordon Pratt explaining his techniques for raising tiny blue butterflies and essentially encouraging me to do the same.  Eh, I make for a rather lazy lepidopterist and generally only raise whatever I can easily find (read: large enough to spot from 5 ft. away!) and if I'm in the mood.  It's been a while since I've reared anything, the last ones being Genista broom moths as a pest management favor for J.  I've had moderate luck with larger leps in our relatively cool coastal climate (e.g., Lophocampa success and unidentified woollybear failure), but I haven't reared anything as small as blues (except for the accidental poop-shooting orange tortrix relative).  So, while I figure out the logistics for raising tiny cats (and whether I have the patience for such endeavors), I'm dusting off my rearing containers for a bit of practice with yet another larger caterpillar.

À la Gary Larson, here are the newest additions to our family (note: he/she designations are purely random)...

Those are her gorgeous black prolegs in the first picture above.  She was voracious and slightly smaller than her companion.

Slightly larger, less hungry, and definitely more mobile.  Go, George, go!  I quickly stuffed a cotton ball into the vase, so roaming George wouldn't drown.

I didn't measure either one (remember, lazy), but they were maybe 2 inches long.  They seemed to prefer medium-sized leaves off stems that could support their hefty stature.  Within a day, the single stalk I found them on was stripped bare, except for side supporting stems and wispy flower-bud tips, whereupon I ran down the street and collected 2 more stalks for food.  Oy!  I inadvertently brought home lots of other insects from the clippings (aphids, ants, an inchworm, and a syrphid fly larva).

Until I see their adult form, I can't really say which Cucullia sp. these are.  My ID search started with googling images of "zebra striped caterpillar".  No kidding.  Yep, super-scientific.  Not!  But, it works.  That took me to the zebra caterpillar (Melanchra picta), which gave me Hodges number 10293 and a decent starting point.  Btw, Moth Photographer's Group has a excellent series of caterpillar plates for North America.

Cucullia speyeri (Hodges 10190) looks like a superficial match, but Robert W. Poole indicates C. speyeri is not found anywhere near here.  I think he's the same fellow who wrote a Noctuid catalog, so he would know (but I'm not positive).  There are certainly enough look-alikes, here (various), here (thin yellow stripe on side w/ white prolegs and white bindi), here (Hodges 10191), and here (wide yellow stripe on side w/ facial freckles and white bindi, not laetifica), so it's hard to say if this one from San Diego on CalPhotos is correct.  The Cucullia adults are not much easier to tell apart.


It's because of the reported native host plant for C. speyeri, horseweed (Erigeron canadensis, aka Conyza canadensis), that I was able to track down the ID of this non-native < 4 ft. tall relative.  I checked the few flowers in bloom, and they definitely look like bonariensis, not canadensis, to me.  I'll try to take pictures of this plant in situ, as the one I have here was otherwise stripped of its leaves and didn't look like it normally would.  More to come...