Tag Archives: caterpillar

When Choosing Plants, Think Food Chain

Some years ago when I began writing for a national wildlife gardening blog, I wrote from the standpoint of my personal observations and over the years I have learned and evolved in my way of gardening based on those observations. Below is the very first article I wrote and one of which I am most proud.

It still holds true today as evidenced in the “featured photo” above taken in 2016 which shows the larva of a ladybug eating the pupa of a leaf eating beetle that had dined on the Florida native Goldenrod plant shown. Years ago I may have tossed the beetles in their active leaf-eating stage into soapy water, thinking they were ruining my plants. As I observe the food chain in action, I have learned the importance of leaving them to feed others higher up since if you break the chain at any point someone further up suffers.

Dateline:  October 8, 2010*

Caterpillars of Automeris io moth

I do outreach events for the local chapter of The Florida Native Plant Society. This is our busiest time of year as the weather turns cooler and delightfully breezy.

This past weekend we were at the local Home Depot, sharing our space with Audubon as we often do. I always bring a few live bugs or small garden critters to serve as a conversation starter in how to go about creating a beautiful wildlife garden. It gets kids interested in plants and keeps their attention while I talk to the parents about biodiversity.

I only had about five minutes to locate my “friends” in the early morning hours when things are wet and critters aren’t as plentiful, but I managed to gather a treefrog, a lynx spider and a white peacock butterfly, who was just emerging. Into their display cases they went with proper moisture and plant materials.

When things slowed down at the event, Larry, the president of the Kissimmee Audubon who is also a Native Plant Society member and I got to talking. He said that he was amazed at what I find in my yard to get the conversation flowing. He remarked that not many people could do as I did the week before and bring seven different species to an event without struggling to find them.

That hunt on a single area of Bidens Alba and some native mallow species took me about 15 minutes resulting in finding a praying mantis, two different butterflies, soldier beetles, a spider, and a treefrog. I added a grasshopper which I found on a citrus tree and I only stopped because I ran out of display containers.

Afternoon events are always easier to supply because the bugs are enjoying the sun and are plentiful. Our discussion continued in how planting for butterflies is good but having a lot of different plants in a garden to support all types of native insects is critical in being sustainable and providing for a more diverse array of wildlife.

Birds like all caterpillars, not just those of the butterflies. Consider planting some native plants that support moth caterpillars. You’ll feel less upset about the caterpillars being devoured. I don’t want to give the moths a complex by pointing out that some are not as pretty as a butterfly, but if I see a bird near my Cowbane (Tiedemannia filiformis), I get a little uneasy feeling that perhaps he is eating a potential Black Swallowtail Butterfly. Alternately, if I see a bird on a Wax Myrtle (Myrica cerifera) I enjoy the encounter without much concern that a possible looper moth is being digested. Ok, so I’m a little shallow.  😉

I guess the point is that not every critter is going to be something that you want to hug or photograph but they may be the food for something that you want to hug, photograph or observe in your own beautiful wildlife garden.

Clearly an onslaught of stinging caterpillars (Automeris io (shown above)) on an Eastern Redbud (Cercis canadensis) can be a frightening encounter. But if you wait a day or two to see a fattened anole playfully running up and down the branches of the tree you’ll have expanded your wildlife viewing experience. And you’ll be relieved to observe that the majority of the leaves may still be intact. In the world of native plants, nature tends to keep a balance.

Loret is a retired, transplanted New Yorker. She resides on an acre of land in a rural central Florida community called Holopaw with her three sporting dogs. She is a member of The Pine Lily Chapter of the Florida Native Plant Society which encourages others to plant native plants in order to reap the benefits of a beautiful wildlife garden and avoid spreading invasive exotics into our natural areas. 

*This is tale was originally published by Loret T. Setters on October 8, 2010 at the defunct national blog beautifulwildlifegarden[dot]com. Click the date to view reader comments.


Just in Time for National Moth Week 2014

Dateline:  July 25, 2014*

The third annual National Moth Week is winding down.  This year it started last Saturday July 19 and runs through this coming Sunday, July 27, 2014.  The inaugural celebration was back in 2012 and I highlighted some of my favorite moths at the time in my weekly article.

Positioning the rearing container next to a nectar source for release

Moths serve as food for reptiles, birds and bats in adult and larval stages. In addition, the caterpillars host many species of wasps. With their vast numbers (scientists estimate there are 150,000 to more than 500,000 moth species), they are major players in the food chain.
The pretty Clouded Crimson Moth climbs aboard

The last week in July has been designated as National Moth week. In my 2013 article, in addition to adult forms, I included pictures of two of the more unique caterpillars.  One was of the Clouded Crimson Moth (Schinia gaurae).  That caterpillar looks like a very thin Monarch Butterfly larva.
Caterpillar on Southern Beeblossom

At that point in time I had never encountered an adult Crimson Moth. They apparently are nocturnal and I’m not up for the shining of lights on sheets in order to attract the swarms of moths that fly at night. I tend to attract more mosquitoes with that method and I can do without them. That isn’t to say that at some point I won’t be out there once I’ve photographed all the daytime members of the Lepidoptera order of Insects. If you see me dressed up in mosquito netting, you’ll know my night moth urge has arrived.

seems more interested in the petals than the nectar part
I spent all year trying to see if I could encounter the crimson moth, having seen countless caterpillars on its larval host, Southern Beeblossom (Oenothera simulans). I hoped to spot an adult laying eggs on this tall lanky wildflower that is native to the Southeast. Its range is from North Carolina south to Florida and west to Mississippi.

I was frustrated as all pictures showed me that this was one of the more beautiful moths and I so wanted to see one in the flesh.  So, this year I decided to take matters into my own hands and I put one of the caterpillars in a rearing container.

preparing for release
For the most part I am against captive home raising of butterflies and moths in order to try to “save them”. My belief is that a better way to save our insects is to plant native plants in the garden and stop all pesticide use.

I do however, believe it is a good thing to raise specimens of Lepidoptera for educational purposes.  Two reasons I can think of would be to determine what species a caterpillar will become or to show children the process of metamorphosis. If you only do it occasionally and release them when they emerge, you aren’t upsetting the natural life cycle and/or food chain.

So, I fed my captive caterpillar friend fresh flowers and leaves daily until it disappeared into the provided dirt and leaf litter in the bottom of the container.  While some moths spin their cocoons and hang from branches, this is one of many that pupate on the ground.

Doesn’t mind sharing with the other pollinators

I kept the screened container in a natural environment on the patio.  I checked daily to be sure that the paper towel I placed in the container was damp.  The afternoon rains pretty much splashed enough water onto the screen that my job of providing moisture for this stage of development was easy.

I was rewarded in about 10 days by the arrival of the most beautiful pink and white moth with enchanting big green eyes. The white and yellow headdress is pretty fancy too!

Just look at those BIG green eyes

After a brief photo shoot, I released it onto some Bidens alba that is an excellent pollen source.  After 15 minutes or so, I ushered it over onto the Beeblossom so it would feel at home.
This is a stem of Southern Beeblossom, the larval host. The coloring matches so will be a great hiding place

I’m thrilled I got to see the adult and hopefully I’ll see another some evening when I am outside and the lights are on.
hanging out a new growth of Southern Beeblossom, the larval host

When setting up your beautiful wildlife garden, think beyond the “butterfly” garden and consider the many other pollinators.  Determine which native plants will serve as hosts for moths, nectar for bees and flies and you might just get to see a moth that will give any butterfly a run for its money in the beauty department.
Another view on the new growth of its larval host

*This tale was originally published by Loret T. Setters on July 25, 2014 at the defunct national blog beautifulwildlifegarden[dot]com. Click the date to view reader comments.

Meet the Moths: It’s National Moth Week 2013

Dateline:  July 19, 2013*

National Moth Week is a global celebration of moths and biodiversity, being held the last week of July.

New this week: Spurge Spanworm Moth – (Oxydia vesulia) landed on the recycle bin

For 2013, that is July 20-28, 2013.  As you know, I love my bugs and reported on last years’ inaugural celebration of these important players in a garden.  Recently I have identified a few of my unknown moths and a couple of old standbys showed up for a photoshoot.

A favorite colorful, diurnal moth is Syngamia florella, the Red-waisted Florella Moth visits Bidens alba

I’ve talked diurnal moths in the past. Those fly during the day.  Often they are pretty enough to rival the beauty of butterflies.

Black-dotted Spragueia Moth (Spragueia onagrus) colors could rival most butterflies

I’ve talked about the importance of the caterpillars to the survival of other arthropods.  Judy Burris also highlighted some pretty interesting caterpillars recently.

Pale-edged Selenisa Moth (Selenisa sueroides) caterpillar is a favorite food for nesting wasps
But some survive to turn into interesting medium size moths (Pale-edged Selenisa) adult

There are tiny moths.

Stained Lophosis Moth (Lophosis labeculata)

There are HUGE moths, many of which produce silk as reported by Ellen Sousa.

Large Maple Spanworm (Prochoerodes lineola), tattered but still flying (note: not a silk moth)

And there are shiny moths:

Snowy Urola Moth (Urola nivalis)

I’ve tried to alleviate fears of some caterpillars decimating your trees with hints on how to control them in an environmentally sound way.

Bagworm Moth caterpillars cover themselves with debris to try and fit in with the landscape colors. Easily hand-picked and disposed of

How some dress up to disguise themselves from predators.

Some moth caterpillars emulate butterfly cats, such as this Clouded Crimson Flower Moth Caterpillar (Schinia gaurae) who looks like anorexic monarch larvae

There are moths that have unusual shapes:

Diamondback Moth (Plutella xylostella)

And some that have interesting markings:

Plume Moth

Some are in love:

Mating Plume Moths

Moth caterpillars feed birds, host wasps, and perform many important duties in the natural scheme of things. Adult moths serve as a food source for not only birds but for spiders and others as well.

Yellow Mocis Moth (Mocis disseverans)

Plant a few oaks, some wax myrtles and look up what other native plants in your location will serve as a larval plant for the deserving and beneficial moth.  And put on your party hat to join the festivities.

*This tale was originally published by Loret T. Setters on July 19, 2013 at the defunct national blog beautifulwildlifegarden[dot]com. Click the date to view reader comments.

Viceroy Butterfly Puts up a Smokescreen

Dateline:  October 12, 2012*

Viceroy Butterfly Caterpillar makes short order of the leaves of this willow

The Viceroy Butterfly (Limenitis archippus) practices mimicry. One theory is that the Müllerian relationship with the milkweed butterflies helps keep the numbers of both species up by fooling birds into thinking they are all rather toxic, so less are eaten as appetizers.

From a distance, hard to distinguish from a monarch or queen, the black line across the hindwing is the giveaway

And, it may just be that all these species are unpleasant to eat. Mind you, I’m not tasting any of them soon, especially since the Viceroy adults are fond of feeding on rotten fruit, feces and carrion.

Ventral view

In Florida, they take on the coloring of the Monarch and Queen butterflies depending upon location within the state. These two milkweed butterflies build up toxins from their host, making them distasteful to predators. Viceroys are said to have a bitter taste from the salicylic acid consumed on its own larval host, the Willow (Salix spp.), Poplar and Cottonwood (Populus spp.), so they have their own off-taste, though it may not be as toxic as the Danaus genus of milkweed eaters.

The caterpillars look a little like bird droppings

The Viceroy has several subspecies giving it a wide and varied range across the United States and Canada. Another interesting aspect of the Viceroy butterfly is the fact that it forms occasional natural hybrids with the red spotted purple (Limenitis astyanax), who’s range covers the eastern half of the US. Although the same genus of butterfly, they are a mimic and a non-mimic. Gives new meaning to embrace all your brothers and sisters.

Different caterpillar instars have different looks. This one is darker so the “saddle” is more prominent

A while ago when I spotted my first viceroy butterfly, I read up on what was needed in the way of a larval host. I then specifically purchased a native willow tree to put next to my pond, which encourages them to reproduce in my garden, not just stop by for a spot of nectar. The same goes for other species of butterflies. Read up on what larval hosts will attract those butterflies that you’d like to see more of and plant it. I have been rewarded many times over, proving that if you plant it they will come.

Visiting Muscadine Grapevine in 2015

*This tale was originally published by Loret T. Setters on October 12, 2012 at the defunct national blog beautifulwildlifegarden[dot]com. Click the date to view reader comments.

Wildly Wonderous Wax Myrtle

The bayberry began blooming this week (shown above) which brought to mind an article that I wrote a few years back on the benefits of this hardy Florida native plant.

Dateline: December 3, 2010*

Wax Myrtle blooms in Spring
Wax Myrtle blooms in Spring

Wax Myrtle (Myrica cerifera or Morella cerifera) aka Southern Bayberry is an evergreen, which is native to the U.S. It is versatile and will work for most landscapes. It can be used alone as a great specimen or group together to form quick growing hedges or privacy screens. Left unpruned, it will become a multitrunk tree, which can reach heights of 25 feet but is normally maintained at 10 to 15 feet. It is a naturally occurring species in my Pine Flatwoods ecosystem and gives a myriad of wildlife entertainment to those who choose it for their landscapes.

Makes a great specimen alone or grouped as a privacy screen
Makes a great specimen alone or grouped as a privacy screen

Wax myrtle grows in a variety of habitats but prefers moist, sandy soils and is a great addition for areas that may experience flooding, yet it proves to be a wonderful, drought-tolerant species once established. It is also salt-tolerant, does well in full sun to partial shade but the growth will be considerably thinner in total shade.  It is recommended for street planting especially beneath powerlines because it looks great in any shape

Berries to feed wildlife or to make bayberry candles
Berries to feed wildlife or to make bayberry candles

It’s functional uses transcend into the home as the wax coated fruits can be used to make scented candles and the leaves can be used to make a pale yellow shade of dye. Although there is no scientific proof that it repels fleas, my dogs have not been treated with chemicals and yet they have no fleas. On the one occasion that I did see fleas, I made an infusion from the leaves and sprayed the dogs. The next day the fleas were gone.

Clip a branch as greenery for a tabletop bouquet
I clip a branch as greenery for use in tabletop bouquets

This plant does have two minor downsides, although they are quite workable and certainly don’t warrant passing this beauty up.

It should not be planted too close to structures as it has oils contained in the leaves which could ignite in a fire.

Puss or Asp Caterpillar, a toxic stinging Caterpillar
Puss or Asp Caterpillar, a toxic stinging Caterpillar

It is larval host for what is said to be one of the most toxic stinging caterpillar in the United States, the puss caterpillar (Megalopyge opercularis).  When encountered, I just carefully move these critters to areas not accessible to my dogs as one was stung and got pretty sick…although recovered fine. The resulting Southern Flannel moth is quite pretty in the books, although I’ve yet to see one in the flesh. The caterpillars are hardly prolific. I’ve only encountered maybe 10 or so over the years and I encourage these plants all around my 1-acre property as my choice of privacy screen.

Now on to all it’s best attributes!

A mockingbird nest hidden in the branches of Bayberry
A mockingbird nest hidden in the branches of Bayberry

It provides excellent cover for wildlife. Wild turkey, bob-white quail, various waterfowl, catbirds, thrashers, bluebirds, vireos, warblers, tree swallows, squirrels and other mammals are some of the species who rely on its berries as a winter food source. In my own yard, mockingbirds use it to build well hidden nests albeit some of them prove to be “decoy” nests apparently set up to throw off other birds or the birds of prey.

Buds occur in spring
Buds occur in spring

It is dioecious and only female plants have fruits provided there is a male nearby for pollination. It has subtle yet pretty blooms in the spring. It is a larval host for Red-banded Hairstreak Butterfly, which use the leaf litter below the plant as the host, another good reason to leave your leaves in place. It is a larval host for the beautiful Polyphemus Moth (Antheraea polyphemus) and serves as a nesting zone for yellow garden spiders and other beneficial creepy crawlies.

Larva of the Polyphemus Moth enjoys a snack
Larva of the Polyphemus Moth enjoys a snack

A welcome bounty for many, including you,  in your beautiful wildlife garden.

USDA hardiness zones: 7 through 10

*This tale was originally published by Loret T. Setters on December 3, 2010 at the defunct national blog beautifulwildlifegarden[dot]com. Click the date to view reader comments.

Spring Nesting Season Isn’t Just for Birds

Hate pesticides?  Concerned with caterpillars devouring your plants?  Mother Nature has a natural solution that you may not be aware of.

Red-marked Pachodynerus Wasp chooses a dried stem of Bidens alba to set up a nest.
Red-marked Pachodynerus Wasp chooses a dried stem of Bidens alba to set up a nest.

I was opening the drive gate and next to the post where it locks when open I noticed some dead brush from Bidens alba being utilized by a mason wasp as housing for her nest.  It brought back a memory from the first time I spotted this behavior some years back. Time to dust off the lost article and post it again.

Dateline:  March 23, 2012*

A week or two ago I was out and noticed some activity by the Chickasaw Plum sapling I planted this past fall. The tree is staked with a hollow bamboo stick where an attractive Red and Black Mason Wasp (likely Pachodynerus erynnis) was busy. As I looked closer, I saw that it was dragging a caterpillar into the center of the bamboo. So, this Mason Wasp, also known by the common name Red-marked Pachodynerus is beneficial in the garden since larval stages develop as a parasitoid of caterpillars. It is also beneficial as an adult performing minor pollination duties as it feeds on nectar and pollen.

They paralyze the caterpillar by stinging them
They paralyze the caterpillar by stinging them

A Mason Wasp is one of the solitary wasps so you really don’t have to fear being stung unless you grab the poor thing. Being solitary, they don’t swarm and they don’t tend to defend their nests. This little bugger didn’t give me a second look, even though I was circling with the camera and was very close.

Hollow tube-like sticks provide nest areas for solitary bees and wasps...place some around your garden
Hollow tube-like sticks provide nest areas for solitary bees and wasps…place some around your garden

Mason wasp parents build mud cells and lay a single egg in each cell placing it on a caterpillar. They capture caterpillars by paralyzing them and the family of choice is Noctuidae, which includes cutworms, armyworms and other destructive pests. They also have been known to feed on beetle larvae.

Dragging prey which will feed the wasp's own larvae
Dragging prey which will feed the wasp’s own larvae

I am waiting for an identification confirmation on the caterpillar that I believe is the larvae of a Pyralid/Crambid moth. After they get the nest set up and the eggs laid, they seal it up with mud which in Florida really is damp sand. Now we wait.

Sealed with sand-like mud. Now we await the miracle of birth
Sealed with sand-like mud. Now we await the miracle of birth

This is integrated pest management at it’s best. Why use pesticides when Mother Nature will perform admirably if given the chance.

*This tale was originally published by Loret T. Setters on March 23, 2012 at the defunct national blog beautifulwildlifegarden[dot]com. Click the date to view reader comments.

Tasty Morsels and their Native Plants

This is an update to a tale originally published by Loret T. Setters on September 13, 2011 at the defunct national blog nativeplantwildlifegarden[dot]com. Click the date to view reader comments and find working links to other stories.

You need to think beyond Milkweed and the Monarch caterpillars to for a more beneficially rounded biodiverse native plant garden
You need to think beyond Milkweed and the Monarch caterpillars  for a more beneficially rounded biodiverse native plant garden

Do you have native plants as larval hosts? What you say? Of course…Look, there is my Partridge Pea (Chamaecrista fasciculata) ready for the Sulphur Butterflies and over there…Purple Passionflower (Passiflora incarnata) just waiting for the Gulf Fritillaries to lay their eggs. Then there is the Water Cowbane (Tiedemannia filiformis) standing tall so the Black Swallowtail butterflies can find them and, of course, plenty of Milkweeds (Asclepias spp.) to save the Monarch. I could go on, but you get the idea.

This pretty little Cypress Looper Moth (Iridopsis pergracilis) relies on Bald Cypress (Taxodium distichum) as a larval host
This pretty little Cypress Looper Moth (Iridopsis pergracilis) relies on Bald Cypress (Taxodium distichum) as a larval host

This will be more of a pictorial about the unsung heroes of the garden. Moth Caterpillars! Butterflies are lovely dotting the landscape with color as they flutter about, but they aren’t the only ones who start out as caterpillars. Moth caterpillars play a big part in feeding birds and reptiles. Some of the caterpillars tend to be quite showy. Many are generalists using several different larval host plants. I’m lucky because this crew mostly chooses shrubs or wildflowers which don’t show the damage where they feed. Too often moth caterpillars are removed or sprayed with pesticides because they don’t turn into gorgeous winged beauties (although the Polyphemus Moth would give any butterfly a run for the money). Since I let them be, I now have a healthy contingent of the upper level members of the food chain to keep them in check. Although this list is hardly exhaustive, here are some of the plants on my property and the moth caterpillars they support:

Banded Sphinx Moth Caterpillar – Eumorpha fasciatus uses Winged Primrosewillow (Ludwigia alata):

Prominent caterpillar – Schizura unicornis shown on Wax Myrtle (Myrica cerifera):

IO Moth stinging caterpillars – Automeris io munching Eastern Redbud (Cercis canadensis) Note that the majority were gone the next day and a fat anole was lounging on the truck of the tree.

Emerald Moth – Synchlora spp. decorates itself as it dines on Spanish Needles (Bidens Alba) :

Wax Myrtle (Myrica cerifera) also feeds the Polyphemus Moth – Antheraea polyphemus

Dog Fennel (Eupatorium capillifolium) or Elderberry (Sambucus nigra) provides this Salt Marsh caterpillar –Estigmene acrea with plenty of sustenance:

Wax Myrtle (Myrica cerifera) popular with the Southern flannel moth caterpillar – Megalopyge opercularis:

Shyleaf (Aeschynomene americana), and other members of the pea, spurge and grass families provides food for the Pale-edged Selenisa Moth Caterpillar (Selenisa sueroides):SelenisaCaterpillarShyleafOct2013

Southern Beeblossom (Gaura angustifolia) feeds the Clouded Crimson Moth Caterpillar (Schinia gaurae)

Owlet Moth (Noctuidae) caterpillar (species unknown) rests on Spanish Needles (Bidens Alba) 

Rabbitbells (Crotalaria rotundifolia) seed pods feed the Bella Moth – Utetheisa ornatrix

BALD-CYPRESS TREE (Taxodium distichum) hosts the chunky and colorful Baldcypress Sphinx Moth Caterpillar (Isoparce cupressi) :baldcypresssphinxCaterpillarOct2013A

And the ever popular Wax Myrtle (Myrica cerifera) also feeds this Slug Caterpillar (species unknown):

So, if you want to feed the birds and encourage frogs, toads and lizards, add some of these lovely Florida Native Plants to your garden (provided they are native and appropriate to your location). They’ll attract the insects that feed the next in line critters.

Balance in the Garden: Digger Wasp

Ammophila procera on Bidens alba
Ammophila procera on Bidens alba

Activity is starting to heat up in my garden as the blistering heat of August in Florida cools down. August is generally a quieter month for wildlife activity as everyone hunkers down to take a time out…rather like winter break up north when it gets to cold to do anything.

With September upon us, there is a dizzying flurry of pollinators flitting here and there. I noticed a rather slim “something” envelop a bloom of the Bidens alba. It had long lanky legs and I thought perhaps some sort of mantid or grasshopper as it seemed to climb from flower to flower. Of course the coloring was all wrong for those types of insects, so I was intrigued to find out who my new visitor was.

The silver markings on the side help determine the species of wasp
The silver markings on the side help determine the species of wasp

Lo’ and behold, as I crept closer I saw this Sphecid Wasp drinking in the sweet elixir of my favorite Florida native wildflower. I had seen this type of wasp in the past, but not often enough to be able to put a name to it. A check of my resources and I learned it is Ammophila procera, a Thread-waisted Wasp. Given that skinny midsection, aptly named.

This particular species is one of the “digger” wasps, so-called because they dig tunnels into the ground to nest. As I’ve reported in the past, I’ve encountered similar species watching in awe as a Great Golden Digger Wasp (Sphex ichneumoneus) dragged it’s large katydid prey below ground.

My latest wasp visitor uses caterpillars as the host for its larvae. Now, before you get in a tizzy worrying about your precious butterfly caterpillars, don’t be alarmed. This species has a taste for moths with documented use of White-dotted Prominent (Nadata gibbosa), Variable Oakleaf Caterpillar Moth (Lochmaeus manteo) and one that I find at my place, the Morning-glory Prominent Moth (Schizura ipomoeae).

Here's a photo of one of the host caterpillars munching on my Eastern Redbud (Cercis canadensis) (from 2010)
Here’s a photo of one of the host caterpillars munching on my Florida Native Eastern Redbud Sapling (Cercis canadensis) (from 2010)

These species of caterpillars are often considered “pests” because they defoliate trees. Keep in mind that each insect has a roll to play in the big scheme of things but most humans will agree it is a lot easier to accept the disappearance of caterpillar that ultimately is somewhat dull in the color department as an adult over seeing a chunky monarch caterpillar disappear.

It was fascinating to read about the Thread-Waisted Wasps nest building habits. They drag their paralyzed bounty backward into the tunnel, laying an egg on a particular segment of the host. Interestingly enough, they make provisions for temporary closure of the entrance if they need to leave briefly, with anecdotal evidence of the use of pebbles, sand spurs, an acorn and even a rabbit pellet as a entry plug.

From a few years back, same species seeking nectar from Florida Native Plant Winged Loosestrife (Lythrum alatum var. lanceolatum)
From a few years back, same wasp species seeking nectar from Florida Native Plant Winged Loosestrife (Lythrum alatum var. lanceolatum)

The wasp seals it up permanently when everything is in order to her satisfaction. This part of the lifecycle takes approximately 33 days over all: eggs hatch in 2 days, larval feed and spin a cocoon after 5 days and the adult emerges 26 days later.

Even more fascinating was a time lapse video I found of the nest provisioning procedure.

Since solitary wasps aren’t necessarily aggressive, welcome them and appreciate their important mission to pollinate and practice chemical free biocontrol in your own beautiful wildlife garden.


Dick Walton http://www.rkwalton.com/wasps.php

Observations on the Nesting Behavior of Digger Wasps of the Genus Ammophila
Howard E. Evans
American Midland Naturalist
Vol. 62, No. 2 (Oct., 1959) , pp. 449-473
Published by: The University of Notre Dame
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2422538

Title: Additions to the Knowledge of the Nesting Behavior of North American Ammophila (Hymenoptera: Sphecidae)
Author(s): Jerry A. Powell
Source: Journal of the Kansas Entomological Society, Vol. 37, No. 3 (Jul., 1964), pp. 240-258
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/25083390


Balance in the Garden: Ichneumon Parasitic Wasp

The tale of a parasitic wasp originally published by Loret T. Setters on November 21, 2014 at (beautifulwildlifegarden.com/).

ichneumonwaspRedbudOct2014ASometime ago I talked about how some wasps keep a garden in balance by using other arthropods as their larval hosts, laying eggs to hatch and feed off the caterpillars of moths or butterflies or beetle larvae.  It’s Nature’s way of ensuring you don’t get too many of one species.  The food chain in action.

Adult IO moths are quite pretty
Adult IO moths are quite pretty

My Eastern Redbud tree sapling (Cercis canadensis) draws in the Automeris io moth that is a member of the Giant Silkworm and Royal Moth family (Saturniidae). The caterpillars are a gregarious bunch that can strip the leaves of a host like the speed of light if there isn’t a predator that will hold it in check.

Eggs of IO Moth on Redbud Tree
Eggs of IO Moth on Redbud Tree

Redbud doesn’t really do all that well in this part of Central Florida; more a tree who likes a range of cooler weather or a heartier freeze found further north in our fair state.  So, while not the most lushly attractive of trees in my garden scheme, it still has a place in my garden because it is a host for the caterpillars of this pretty moth.  I purchased it before I understood that just because a plant is native to your state, it doesn’t mean it is native to your county or ecosystem.

Late instar IO Moth caterpillars which can be gregarious
Late instar IO Moth caterpillars which can be gregarious

Recently I met a new-to-me parasitic Ichneumon wasp (Ichneumonidae family). Based on a search of Bugguide I believe it is Anomalon spp.  This particular genus is not well documented down to species level in the guide.

My latest Icheumon Wasp find on Redbud
My latest Icheumon Wasp find on Redbud

With many arthropods, it is often minute details that separates one species from another…not always possible using a photograph.

Top or head/face
Top or head/face

The University of Florida’s Natural Area Teaching Laboratory’s listing of Ichneumon wasps found in the woods located on the campus in Gainesville (about 2 hours North of my location) has one species, A. ejuncidum, and it notes beetle, butterfly and moth larvae as hosts for the wasp.

A check of the Web Partners Database a.k.a. Taxapad doesn’t specifically list the IO moth as a documented host, it does indicate that armyworms, prominent moths and other members of the Macrolepidoptera (which includes Royal Moths) do host this particular genus of ichneumon wasps.

Could this parasitic eggmass be that of my newfound ichneumon species? (probably not)
Could this parasitic eggmass be that of my newfound ichneumon species? (probably not)

So, perhaps these stinging caterpillars do grow this variety of wasp.  Unfortunately, when I went back to continue my “cycle of life” observation, the cocoon mass was gone so I won’t know if it was from the Anomalon or from some other braconid or ichneumon wasp species.

I looked around for suspiciously chunky anoles nearby that could have had wasp eggs from the dinner menu. Again, food chain in action.

I’ll keep a close eye out next year to see if I’m lucky enough to catch it “in the act”
I’ll keep a close eye out next year to see if I’m lucky enough to catch it “in the act”

So, while not lucky enough to catch the emerging critters in action for proof positive, I will pay attention in the future to see if my observations are on target and I can solve the mystery of the fluffy cocoon mass.  Each month I check back to what was happening in the garden in prior years so I know what to expect or look for.

Once again this is a reminder that it is important not to use pesticides when dealing with what some consider “pest” insects.  Pesticides don’t distinguish the predator from the pest. A better alternative is to hand pick some of the chewers and move to the compost pile if you are so inclined, but leave some to grow the next generation of predators. Remember that each species has a role in the garden and we shouldn’t be too hasty to decide that one has more value than another does.

Enjoy all the critters in your beautiful wildlife garden.

Barbecued Bagworm Moths

The caterpilllar uses silk, twigs, lichens and other bits of debris to form the case
The caterpilllar uses silk, twigs, lichens and other bits of debris to form the case

I had another interesting encounter with a bagworm moth.  You know, those debris covered caterpillars that we all at one time thought were cocoons or pupal cases.  Turns out they often are still in the feeding stage.

Still feeding, you can see the head sticking out from the case
Still feeding, you can see the head sticking out from the case

Bagworm Moths are in the Psychidae family of moths and most only feed in the larval stage.  I often have found them stuck on the aluminum posts that hold up the carport/patio cover. I always assumed that they were in the pupal stage and attributed the disappearance of it to an encounter with a hungry lizard or bird.

bagworm hanging on the side of the bbq
bagworm hanging on the side of the bbq

Well, as I gazed out the kitchen window that overlooks the patio I saw something walking on the barbecue.  Not all that unusual, the lizards routinely use it as a segue to keep out of the reach of nosey dogs.  However, this creature was substantially smaller and moved in an unusual fashion.

I headed out, camera in hand to find a bagworm moth caterpillar creeping along. I snapped a few photos and this short video and left it to fend for itself.

The next day, the bagworm was still on the barbecue.  Was it waiting for me to rustle up some veggieburgers?  I watched it again and it seemed to be feeding.  That’s when it dawned on me.  Many bagworm moths eat lichens.  Lichens attach to a variety of different substrates and I suppose my barbecue is prime real estate, as it doesn’t get used all that often.

When it turned it upside down it retracted completely inside the case
When it turned it upside down it retracted completely inside the case

The bagworm was gone the next day, perhaps moving on to better feeding grounds, or a comfortable place to change into an adult, or maybe it had an encounter with a hungry lizard or bird. 😉

Just another caterpillar
Just another caterpillar

Additional benefits of bagworms are they are a host for parasitoid wasps and tachinid flies. As we need these important pollinators, don’t be too quick to eliminate our bagworm friends from the food chain.


USDA Forest Service
University of Nebraska IANR

University of Florida Entomology Dept.