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Caterpillars of Eastern North America

Caterpillars of Eastern North America: A Guide to Identification and Natural History

Copyright Date: 2005
Pages: 496
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  • Book Info
    Caterpillars of Eastern North America
    Book Description:

    This lavishly illustrated guide will enable you to identify the caterpillars of nearly 700 butterflies and moths found east of the Mississippi. The more than 1,200 color photographs and two dozen line drawings include numerous exceptionally striking images. The giant silk moths, tiger moths, and many other species covered include forest pests, common garden guests, economically important species, and of course, the Mescal Worm and Mexican Jumping Bean caterpillars. Full-page species accounts cover almost 400 species, with up to six images per species including an image of the adult plus succinct text with information on distribution, seasonal activity, foodplants, and life history. These accounts are generously complemented with additional images of earlier instars, closely related species, noteworthy behaviors, and other intriguing aspects of caterpillar biology.

    Many caterpillars are illustrated here for the first time. Dozens of new foodplant records are presented and erroneous records are corrected. The book provides considerable information on the distribution, biology, and taxonomy of caterpillars beyond that available in other popular works on Eastern butterflies and moths. The introductory chapter covers caterpillar structure, life cycles, rearing, natural enemies, photography, and conservation. The section titled "Caterpillar Projects" will be of special interest to educators.

    Given the dearth of accessible guides on the identification and natural history of caterpillars,Caterpillars of Eastern North Americais a must for entomologists and museum curators, forest managers, conservation biologists and others who seek a compact, easy-to-use guide to the caterpillars of this vast region.

    A compact guide to nearly 700 caterpillars east of the Mississippi, from forest pests to garden guests and economically important species1,200 color photos and 24 line drawings enable easy identificationFull-page species accounts with image of adult insect for almost 400 species, plus succinct text on distribution and other vital informationMany caterpillars illustrated here for the first timeCurrent information on distribution, biology, and taxonomy not found in other popular worksA section geared toward educators, "Caterpillar Projects"An indispensable resource for all who seek an easy-to-use guide to the caterpillars of this vast region

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-3414-3
    Subjects: Zoology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. 1-2)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. 3-3)
    (pp. 4-4)
    (pp. 5-6)
    (pp. 6-7)
  6. PART ONE Introductory Sections

      (pp. 8-34)

      Caterpillars, the larvae of butterflies and moths (order Lepidoptera), are the last group of large, common, backyard creatures for which there are no comprehensive field guides. Every week of the growing season I am asked to identify caterpillars and answer questions about them: What is this? What does it eat? Is it a pest? Is it harming my house or garden? What will it turn into? How might I raise it? This guide will help you answer these questions for nearly all of the caterpillars likely to be encountered east of the Mississippi. Full species accounts with an image of...

  7. PART TWO Family and Species Accounts

      (pp. 35-52)

      Relative to other Lepidoptera, slug caterpillars seem more fantasy than reality. They are rivaled only by the prominents in the diversity of their form, color, and armament. While some are rather ordinary, rounded and sluglike, others are peculiarly angulate, lobed, or spined. One of our more striking slug caterpillars is flattened and ringed by batteries of stinging hairs. And what may be North America’s strangest caterpillar, the Monkey Slug or Hag Moth caterpillar, looks far more like the cast skin of a tarantula than it does a caterpillar. There are about 30 species in our region. Slugs are especially diverse...

      (pp. 53-56)

      Although they appear soft and harmless, flannel moth larvae are among our most welldefended insects. Beneath the soft outer hair are warts fortified with hollow, poisonfilled stinging spines that are capable of delivering painful stings. Only four species of this largely Neotropical family extend into our region. The biological station where I work in Costa Rica is home to 15 species; the country has in excess of 40. Caterpillars of one particularly large Amazonian species reach more than 8cm; stings from this behemoth, “el raton” (the rat), have purportedly resulted in human deaths.

      Accessory prolegs on abdominal segments A2 and...

      (pp. 57-57)

      This heterogeneous family of about 1,000 species is most diverse in the Neotropics and Old World. Only four of the 22 species that occur north of Mexico are found in the East; most of the others are Southwestern. The caterpillars are stout and often flattened. As in related families, the head is partially covered by a fleshy extension of the prothorax. In our species the crochets, all of one size, are in a single band. At least two of the Eastern species feed on grape as do many Western smoky moths. Oddly, caterpillars of the Orange-patched Smoky Moth (Pyromorpha dimidiata)...

      (pp. 58-75)

      More than 280 skippers have been recorded north of Mexico, although a great many of these occur only along our southern border and especially in Texas. Skippers are very diverse in the tropics, particularly across ecotones where early successional areas and forest intermix. Although skippers are our most numerous lepidopteran garden visitors, few people are familiar with their distinctive caterpillars: they are a furtive lot, feeding at night and retiring to silken leaf shelters by day. The majority of our grass-feeding species are seldom seen. Because only a few skipper caterpillars are apt to be encountered by users of this...

      (pp. 76-82)

      Swallowtails are among the most familiar and photographed insects; there are few who do not appreciate the beauty of these butterflies. Several species are common in and around rural and urban areas—both the Tiger and Spicebush breed in Central Park. Caterpillars of Black Swallowtails are frequent guests in vegetable gardens and the Eastern Tiger Swallowtail larva feeds on many ornamental trees. The caterpillars too are favorites among children, perhaps because they are large, attractive, and predictable, the latter being a euphemism for lethargic. Seven common Eastern species are figured, another four are diagnosed. The family is best represented in...

      (pp. 83-90)

      The vast majority of the world’s 1,100 pierids species are tropical, but North America’s most species-rich pierid genus (Colias) has more than a dozen mostly arctic and subarctic representatives. Many, particularly among the sulphurs, are migratory—the movements ofEurema,Phoebis, andZereneare mostly unidirectional, out of the South northward throughout the summer and fall months. Many pierid caterpillars are a rather inconspicuous and unremarkable lot, more mothlike in appearance than other butterfly caterpillars. Their resemblance to moths may not be entirely coincidental as whites and sulphurs appear to have diverged near the base of the radiation that gave...

      (pp. 91-107)

      This is a large family of butterflies with more than 140 species north of Mexico. While adult lycaenids are surely among the planet’s most beautiful animals, their caterpillars are a mundane lot—to my eyes, the larvae of the hairstreaks, blues, and coppers are among the most structurally monotonous large groups of externally feeding Lepidoptera. (There are marvelous exceptions to this claim in South Africa and elsewhere, but in North America only the metalmarks show great diversity in form.)

      Head small, retracted into the thorax, except when feeding. Sluglike: body short, wide, and somewhat flattened. Integument densely covered with short...

      (pp. 108-138)

      About 6,000 species are currently recognized; approximately one in every three butterflies worldwide is a brushfoot. The family is especially diverse in the tropics. About 75 species are resident in the East. Taxonomists are still arguing whether nymphalids should be recognized as a single inclusive family or split into three or even six families. Here I follow the classification of Ackery et al .(1999), a conservative stance that even pulls the snout butterflies (Libytheinae) into the brushfoots.

      Their caterpillars far surpass all other butterfly families in their diversity of form. The only character that will allow the universal recognition of...

      (pp. 139-142)

      A small family with just eight Eastern species, four in each of two subfamilies: the Drepaninae and Thyatirinae. The upper part of the head is often lobed or horned. All have an extra seta above and rearward of the spiracle on A1–A8. The crochets are often grouped in two series: the inner set possess larger crochets of one or two lengths; in many hooktips there is an outer set of smaller crochets that are few in number. Many of our species feed from within a loosely tied shelter. The pupa overwinters in a cocoon spun in leaf litter. Hooktip...

      (pp. 143-215)

      Whether measured in terms of abundance or biomass, loopers are among the most important forest lepidopterans in Eastern North America. They are an especially important component of the spring caterpillar fauna of deciduous forests, where they are the staple in the diets of many forest-nesting birds. They are masters of crypsis, providing many of nature’s most marvelous examples of background matching, mimicking a myriad of plant tissues and organs (bark, flowers, buds, twigs, leaves, petioles, etc.). Among their ranks are several outbreak species, whose populations occasionally defoliate large tracts of forest. A sampling of the most common and economically important...

      (pp. 216-216)

      This small tropical family has but two representatives in our region, both in the Epipleminae. Epiplemine caterpillars are small, inconspicuous, wide-bodied insects. Ours are drab in color with darkened setal bases. Two subspiracular setae arise from a common base (pinaculum) on A1–A3 (setae arise from separate pinacula on A4–A8 in epiplemines and on A1–A8 in other Lepidoptera). Our Eastern species are gregarious, forming a loose silken web, at least in the early instars. The pupa overwinters in litter.

      Very small, smoky brown, stout, with proportionately minute prolegs. Dark setal bases, perched on low warts, ringed by pale...

      (pp. 217-218)

      Only four sack-bearers occur north of Mexico. The caterpillars are thick-bodied with narrowed thoracic segments. The head is proportionately large and hardened. In our species the posterior abdominal segments are compressed together and angled downward. The caterpillars form open-ended cases by silking together pieces from two or more leaves. Copious silk deposition within greatly fortifies the construction. Caterpillars consume old, hardened summer foliage, leaves that would be impossibly tough for many caterpillars.

      This caterpillar cannot be confused with any other: abdomen seemingly severed or truncated behind spiracle on A8, ending in hard, tan, downward sloping plate. Head bearing two clubbed...

      (pp. 219-221)

      In the New World the Bombycidae are largely tropical—only two species are widespread in our region. The Silkworm, native to China, Taiwan, and Japan, is included due its availability from biological supply houses and its commercial importance. The caterpillars are densely vested in silky setae and have comparatively long prolegs. Even the head bears numerous short secondary (extra) setae. There is no anal point (as in tent caterpillars). The crochets, of two lengths, are arranged in an ellipse whose axis runs parallel to that of the body (similar-appearing caterpillars in other families tend to have crochets of one length)....

      (pp. 222-228)

      This small family has only 35 North American species, most of which are found in arid regions of the Southwest. The majority of the world’s 1,500 species occur in tropical regions. The Eastern Tent Caterpillar and its congeners are brightly colored, handsome insects that feed openly in the day. Our other lasiocampids are cryptically colored in grays, feed mostly at night, and rest preferentially on bark. Ironically, only two of our Eastern species make sizeable tents. Elsewhere—both in the Neotropics and Old World—many lasiocampids live within communal nests, some of rather unusual shape. Cocoons of some species yield...

      (pp. 229-246)

      Saturniids are among the most spectacular insects in eastern North America with caterpillars of the largest sometimes exceeding 10cm in length. They have long been a favorite with collectors and other enthusiasts and are commonly seen on display in insect zoos and nature centers. The North American fauna includes some 70 species, although the majority of these are Western. Nearly all of the East’s 28 species are illustrated or diagnosed here.

      Caterpillar large to enormous, robust, with secondary setae, especially above the prolegs. The primary setae often arise from hardened plates or are modified as knobs, horns, or branched spines....

      (pp. 247-278)

      Sphinx caterpillars are favorites among those who enjoy looking for and raising caterpillars. The East has some 70 species, although many of these will be encountered only in southern Florida and Texas. Our largest hawk moth, the Giant Sphinx (Cocytius antaeus), has caterpillars that may exceed 15cm in length. The long-tongued adults of hornworms are important in the tropics, especially in seasonally dry forests where nearly 10% of the trees may be pollinated by these strong flyers. Sphingids possess the most acute color vision of any animals, discriminating floral colors at light intensities that would appear pitch black to the...

      (pp. 279-320)

      Eastern forests are home to more than 60 species of prominents. They include many of the most handsome and behaviorally interesting caterpillars of the temperate zone. In the tropics they are diverse in both number and form (visit Dan Janzen’s caterpillar Web site: http://janzen. sas. upenn. edu/). Perhaps because they are relatively large, common, and stay perched on leaves by day, chronically exposed to the watching eyes of birds, both their morphology and behavior seem to be remarkably specialized and splendidly varied.

      The body is stout with a proportionately large head, presumably to facilitate feeding on hardened summer foliage. The...

      (pp. 321-438)

      This is the largest family of Lepidoptera with more than 35,000 species worldwide. One in every four lepidopterans in North America is an owlet. They are marvelously diverse in form, behavior, and biology. Wingspan is telling enough: they range in size from hypenodines with wingspans of only 13mm to the Neotropical White Witch (Thysania zenobia ) with an alar expanse occasionally exceeding 300mm. The superfamily Noctuoidea is in a state of taxonomic flux. Long-recognized families such as the tiger moths (Arctiidae) and tussock moths (Lymantriidae) are now known to be of “noctuid stock,” so unless the classic concept of the...

      (pp. 439-442)

      Until recently, pantheids were regarded as a subfamily within the Noctuidae. Their body is vested with abundant secondary setae. There is a wart bearing numerous hairs anterior to the spiracle on T1 in our species. Pantheas and yellowhorns share similarities with the dagger moths and their kin (Noctuidae: Acronictinae). Our six or seven Eastern species overwinter as pupae.

      Pale green to smoky (or rarely black) with abundant long, white wispy setae not grouped into fascicles or lashes. Ends of longer setae often somewhat curled. Setal warts usually pale. Head shiny black with bright, lemon yellow triangle and yellow crescent to...

      (pp. 443-453)

      The family gets its name from the dense setal tufts, the tussocks, that issue from the dorsum of the caterpillar’s abdomen. About 20 species occur in our region. Worldwide the family has more than its share of pest species. Identifications can be challenging, even with Ferguson’s (1978) monograph in hand. Recent taxonomic studies indicate that tussock moths are closely allied to tiger moths and that both represent specialized groups that evolved from within the owlet moths, or at least from within the broad, classical concept of that family.

      Tussock caterpillars may be recognized by the disk-shaped yellow, orange, or red...

      (pp. 454-456)

      Nolids include a heterogeneous group, united by their ridged boat-shaped cocoon, which bears a vertical exit slit at one end. Our species fall into two subfamilies. The Nolinae have small, densely hairy caterpillars that lack prolegs on A3. Sarrothripinae are green, somewhat flattened, possess subdorsal stripes, and the lower portion of the prolegs is rolled outward. All are foodplant specialists. The pupa overwinters.

      Small gray, white, and black caterpillar with abundant secondary setae. Setae borne from raised warts and diverging (not grouped into common fascicle); most setal warts bear both pale and black setae. Dorsum mostly white with dark saddle...

      (pp. 457-483)

      Their bright coloration, moderate size, variety, and chemical ecology have made tiger moths a perennial favorite among moth collectors and watchers. The family is especially varied and diverse in the tropics where 300–400 species may fly together at a single location. In the lowland tropical rainforests of northeastern Costa Rica, they frequently account for 15% of the macro moths in blacklight bucket-trap samples. Despite their taxonomic diversity and ecological importance, rather few tiger moth species are encountered as caterpillars—many are ground-dwellers that hide by day or are otherwise specialized in habit. Hence, only a fraction of the East’s...

    • Two Essentials
      (pp. 484-485)

      While Mexican jumping beans are familiar to many, few realize that the occupant is a microlepidopteran caterpillar, related to the Codling Moth (Cydia pomonella ) that infests apples. The caterpillar hollows out the seed into which it has bored and is able to make it bounce by craning its head backward then rapidly snapping it forward, against the opposite wall of the seed. Some hypothesize that the caterpillar “jumps” to move its location into more favorable environments or as a means of avoiding predation by seed-eating vertebrates. Common foodplants in Mexico and the Southwest include euphorbs in the generaSebastiana...