Who Are You Calling a Caterpillar?

The tale of a beneficial diptera larvae originally published by Loret T. Setters on September 6, 2013 at (beautifulwildlifegarden.com/).syrphidlarvaeIronweedJuly2013B-500x500There are caterpillars eating my plant.  How often have we heard that?  Some people say it with glee

“OH!!!!! 🙂  something is EATING my plant.”

They know that beautiful butterflies and moths are a product of caterpillars. Others say it with disdain,

“oh 😦  something is eating my PLANT”.

Concerned more about plant aesthetics, rather than a plant’s purpose to feed other things up the food chain. I am in the former group so, when I saw a rather interesting caterpillar feeding on my Giant Ironweed (Vernonia gigantea), I was positively overjoyed.

Wow, nice markings
Wow, nice markings

A rather minute thing, less than 1/2 inch long and rather attractive with its mint green color and fancy white stripe down the back. I searched some of my favorite caterpillar Websites and also a database of host plants, plugging in the plant name.  Nothing matched up.  I spent way too much time trying to track down my friend and was becoming frustrated. Sooooo, I reluctantly put it on the backburner and moved on to obsess about a different facet of nature in my yard. Several days later I was researching something entirely different when, there on my screen was photo of my “caterpillar”.

It sure is tiny
It sure is tiny

Heck, it turns out it wasn’t a caterpillar at all, but larvae of a Syrphid fly. I nearly did a cartwheel. Secretly, it was constantly in the back of my mind, gnawing at me.  It’s that “I gotta figure out what everything is and what it does” syndrome. So, this guy is likely Dioprosopa clavata. To make my life easier, I really should learn to look at the bottom of the critters and count those legs, but with this guy (gal) I would have needed a microscope…ok, maybe a magnifying glass would have done it…but you get my drift.  Likely if I did try to pick it up I would have squished the poor thing.  Even with my thirst for knowing, I have to be careful not to “do in” the very thing I am trying to learn about.

AHA! It’s eating aphids
AHA! It’s eating aphids

With this newfound knowledge I went and took a closer look at the photographs.  Well, I’ll be…The little bugger isn’t eat the plant, he’s eating the pile of aphids on the buds of the plant.  Beneficial….this guy is beneficial.  Wow! Some larvae like small caterpillars and thrips too! Each larvae can consume up to 400 aphids during development.  Amazing.

Here is the pupa. how small is small? that is the bud of an ironweed
Here is the pupa. how small is small? that is the bud of an ironweed

This is not the first time I have mindlessly searched for caterpillars that weren’t caterpillars.  Long ago (ok maybe a year, might only be six months, but heck…to me it seems a century) I found a group of “stinging caterpillars”…spiky looking creatures.

spikes…whut? it’s not a stinging caterpillar?
spikes…whut? it’s not a stinging caterpillar?

These were hanging out on my Eastern Red Cedar (Juniperus virginiana). After weeks of intermittent research, it turns out that it was larvae of a Twice-stabbed Lady Beetle (Chilocorus stigma), a ladybug native to the US that preys on scale insects.

but OF COURSE! it is Ladybug larvae which turns into this lovely beneficial
but OF COURSE! it is Ladybug larvae which turns into this lovely beneficial

You would think that after the first episode I would have learned to not to rush to judgment when looking at arthropods.  Hopefully this time is the charm.  Nahhhhh…at my age I’ll probably forget it by tomorrow.

Advertisements

3 thoughts on “Who Are You Calling a Caterpillar?”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s