Tag Archives: insects

Monarch Butterfly Caterpillar © Sean Horton

Take 5: Caterpillar Craze

What on earth are caterpillars, anyway?

“Caterpillar” is a common name for the “larval” (immature) stage of insects of the order Lepidoptera, a.k.a. butterflies and moths.

Finding caterpillars in nature is not easy! The easiest way is to look on their preferred host plants. Monarch butterfly caterpillars, for example, prefer to eat milkweed plants, so that’s where you’re most likely to find them hanging out.

If you love butterflies and caterpillars, you’re in luck! The 10th Annual Butterfly Festival at Broad Meadow Brook in Worcester is this Saturday, August 12. There will be activities for kids including face painting, an obstacle course, a story tent, and nature-themed arts and crafts, as well as a Caterpillar Lab with caterpillar expert Sam Jaffe.

To celebrate these cute, crawly creatures, here are five caterpillar images from our Picture This: Your Great Outdoors Photo Contest. The 2017 photo contest is open now, so enter today!

Isabella Tiger Moth Caterpillar (a.k.a. "Wooly Bear") © Callie Bucchino

Isabella Tiger Moth Caterpillar (a.k.a. “Wooly Bear”) © Callie Bucchino—Wooly Bears are unique for being commonly identified by their larval stage rather than their adult stage.

Spicebush Swallowtail Caterpillar © Brendan Cramphorn

Spicebush Swallowtail Caterpillar © Brendan Cramphorn

Brown-hooded Owlet (Cucullia convexipennis) © Ron Verville

Brown-hooded Owlet (Cucullia convexipennis) © Ron Verville

Polyphemus Moth Caterpillar © Ingrid Moncada

Polyphemus Moth Caterpillar © Ingrid Moncada

Monarch Butterfly Caterpillar © Sean Horton

Monarch Butterfly Caterpillar © Sean Horton

Keep Your Eyes Peeled for this Pest

Quick Guide to Asian Longhorned BeetlesThe non-native Asian longhorned beetle (ALB) is a serious threat to our maples and many other hardwood trees. The larvae dig deep into the heartwood; infected trees cannot be saved. Tens of thousands of trees have already been lost in the northern and central US.

In fact, it’s such a severe threat that the USDA has designated the beetle’s most active monthAugustTree Check Month. With early detection, infestations can be stopped in their tracks.

How to Identify

The ALB infests hardwood trees, such as maple, birch, horse chestnut, poplar, willow, elm, and ash. Signs of an infestation include:

  • Perfectly round, dime-sized (approximately 3/8 of an inch or 1 cm in diameter) holes with smooth edges left by adult beetles exiting a tree
  • Shallow oval scars in the bark (1/2-3/4 of an inch, or 1.3-2 cm wide) where the eggs are deposited.
  • Sawdust-like material on the ground around the trunk or on tree limbs
  • The beetle itself. The mature ALB is shiny black with white spots, measures 3/4 to 1 1/2 inches (2-4 cm) in length, and has two antennae up to four inches (10 cm) long. There are several lookalikes; to help, the USDA complied a look-a-likes chart.

Learn more

Read our primer on this species, explore AsianLonghornedBeetle.com, and share our Quick Guide to help us spot and stop it!

Butterflies and Moths: Busting the Myths

Distinguishing a moth from a butterfly should be easy, right? Well, it may be harder than you think. Butterflies are renowned for their bright colors, and moths have a reputation for drabness and nighttime flight—but many don’t fit this pattern.

Butterflies and moths are very closely related, and belong to the scientific order Lepidoptera. Though butterflies may steal the show in your garden, there are far more moth species than butterfly species. Here are four helpful tips for telling them apart.

1. Color isn’t everything: Some butterflies are dull and some moths are colorful.

There are plenty of bright, showy butterflies, but many of our local species have subdued hues. This common ringlet (Coenonympha tullia) is a good example.

Common ringlet

Common ringlet

And while it’s true that most moths aren’t as colorful as butterflies (bright colors aren’t as visible at night when many moths are active), there are plenty of exceptions. Here in Massachusetts you’ll find moths in a rainbow of hues. Just look at the rosy maple moth (Dryocampa rubicunda).

Rosy maple moth via Patrick Coin/Flickr

Rosy maple moth via Patrick Coin/Flickr

2. Most moths fly only at night—but some fly during the day.

You’ll usually see butterflies flying during the day, and moths at night. But beware—some moths are active in the daytime. A few, such as this snowberry clearwing (Hemaris diffinis), will even visit flowers alongside butterflies and hummingbirds. Learn more about these hummingbird moths.

Snowberry clearwing moth

Snowberry clearwing moth

3. Many butterflies hold their wings together vertically, whereas most moths don’t.

This mourning cloak (Nymphalis antiopa) is holding its wings together above its back in a pose more typical of butterflies.

Mourning cloak

Mourning cloak

Moths, on the other hand, tend to assume one of two poses. They’ll either rest with their wings held to the sides, as in this common lytrosis (Lytrosis unitaria)…

common lytrosis

Common lytrosis

…or with their wings laid against their backs, as in this banded tussock moth (Lophocampa tessellaris).

Banded tussock moth

Banded tussock moth

But there are exceptions. Some butterflies will even hold their wings in a confusing mix of horizontal and upright, as in this dun skipper (Euphyes vestris).

Dun skipper via John Beetham/Flickr

Dun skipper via John Beetham/Flickr

4. One of the best ways to tell them apart is to look at their antennae.

All butterflies and moths have antennae—a pair of long sensory organs between their eyes. In most butterflies there’s either a thickened club or hook shape at the end. Check out the black blobs on the antennae on this silver-bordered fritillary (Boloria selene).

Silver-bordered fritillary

Silver-bordered fritillary

The antennae of moths lack these thickened tips. Also, some are covered with little projections, making them look like combs or feathers, as in this non-native gypsy moth (Lymantria dispar dispar).

Gypsy moth

Gypsy moth

Now it’s time to test yourself. Can you tell if this is a moth or a butterfly?

Butterfly or Moth?

If you guessed butterfly, you’re right. This Juvenal’s duskywing (Erynnis juvenalis) isn’t the most colorful insect, and it tends to lay its wings flat. However, the ends of its antennae are thickened (in this case, they’re hook-shaped).

For more on the amazing members of Lepidoptera, join one of our butterfly and moth programs.

Have You Seen This Beetle?

Asian long-horned beetleThere’s a dangerous insect on the loose. Shiny black with bright white spots, the non-native Asian longhorned beetle (or ALB for short) feeds on a wide range of trees to the point of destruction. Once infected, a tree can’t be saved; tens of thousands of trees have already been lost in the northern and central US.

Now is the time to stop the ALB in its tracks. The insect is most active in August, which has prompted the USDA to launch Tree Check Month. Early detection is critical as the beetles can do immense damage in a short period of time.

Ready to pitch in? Here’s what you need to know.

About ALBs
Native to China, Japan, and Korea, the Asian long-horned beetle was first detected in North America in 1996. Most likely it hitchhiked aboard wooden packing material. Since then, it has destroyed over 80,000 trees in Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey, Ohio, and Illinois. Back in 2008, 27,000 infested trees had to be removed in Worcester alone.

The ALB infests hardwood trees, such as maple, birch, horse chestnut, poplar, willow, elm, and ash. The beetle’s larvae burrow so deeply into the tree that insecticide won’t reach them, and it’s impossible to extract them. In the past, they have been reported in Greater Worcester and there was a small infestation in Boston.

Check your Trees
Fortunately, we can fight back. Eradication efforts have already banished the beetle from Illinois and New Jersey, and parts of New York are expected to follow soon.

The most important thing you can do is to check your trees for infestations. Here’s what to look for:

  • Small, perfectly round dime-sized holes (3/8″ up to 1/2″ in diameter) with smooth edges, left by adult beetles exiting a tree.
  • Shallow oval scars in the bark (1/2″-3/4″ wide) where the eggs are deposited.
  • Sawdust-like material on the ground and in branches, pushed out by the larvae as they burrow.
  • The beetle itself. Mature ALBs measure 1 to 1.5 inches, with two antennae (the “horns”) that can grow up to 4 inches long.

The USDA’s Asian longhorned beetle site features a slideshow of images (including ALB look-a-likes) and includes a tool to report sightings.