Creating a wildlife haven one plant at a time

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

A "C" of caterpillars

While scouting my garden yesterday morning I notice that there were several leafless twigs on one of my blueberry shrubs. So a closer inspection was necessary. What I found sent shivers down my spine.


A mass of caterpillars all huddled together. Yuck! I knew these wouldn't be caterpillars that turned into glorious butterflies instead they would turn into some type of moth. Of course I had to find out exactly what type they are.


They are yellow and brown/black stripped, moderately covered in long white hairs with black heads. They look very much like a yellow-necked caterpillar but I think they resemble another Datana, the Drexel's Datana. I used my steadfast caterpillar book (a Princeton Field Guide) "Caterpillars of Eastern North America" by David L. Wagner as a guide to iding this caterpillar. 


The young caterpillars tend to feed together on a single leaf and gradually disperse onto nearby foliage as they grow. When disturbed, as in me getting close to take a photo, they lift their front and hind quarters to make the letter C shape with their bodies. It is actually pretty cool to watch them wriggling along and then all of a sudden freeze into a letter C.


I read that they can be voracious on blueberry bushes as well as witch hazel. Whereas they only skeletonize the foliage their foraging can retard the growth of the plant. So I decided that they will have to go. I don't want them to wander to my other blueberry shrubs or find my witch hazel. And, I am not going to wait around for the Tachinid flies to parasitize them. Instead I enlisted the help of my seven year old son who was thrilled to pick them off the shrub.


Once he had picked them all off of course he had to count how many there were. He had 41 total! I hope he didn't miss any!

14 comments:

  1. ewwww....I love to look but not touching...I will be on caterpillar watch this weekend...seems to be prime time to find some cool critters

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  2. Always great to have little garden helpers around for these yucky chores. I will think about your son each time I remove a slug, wishing I had one to do this chore. Good investigating and photos too.

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  3. Great shots- I love the "C" poses.

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  4. I sense a prejudice against moths :) I like your integrated pest management practices involving 7-year-old son. I'm feeling an urge to go check on my witch hazel ...

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  5. EEEWWWW is right! That's why it's so great to take a stroll through our gardens every day so we can head things like this off at the pass. And how great it is to have a 7-yr-old willing to do the icky job of picking them off for you!

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  6. I know they were not welcome, but they are interesting creatures. I suppose I should go out and check my newly planted blueberry bush...

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  7. OMG, I would have had a heart attack if I had seen that! But you did a graet job of documenting their behavior and their characteristics. Do you loan that kid out? Maybe we can make an arrangement to swap IPM "assets" LOL. Mine is a 5 year old Cavalier who has singlehandedly controlled the burrowing voles and gophers! He's useless with bugs but a wonder with woodchucks.

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  8. Donna, you are right it is prime time for some of the "unwanted" caterpillars. I hope you don't find any.

    greggo, ha! We just put them in soapy water. I don't like squishy!

    Donna/GWGT, I am very fortunate that he is fascinating with insects and loves to inspect everything close up. He would enjoying picking your slugs!

    kacky, they are pretty cool. We enjoyed making them freeze in that position.

    Sheila, I should be more open minded when it comes to moths. I do love the Cercropia and luna moths but most others I see in my garden are all pretty boring and destructive. Should I give them a second chance?

    Toni, isn't it amazing how quickly things change in the garden from one day to the next. Mother Nature is busy out there. I have to walk through my garden everyday to inspect the changes otherwise I feel like I might miss something interesting.

    The Sage Butterfly, even the "unwanted" creatures are fascinating to observe and learn from. I hope your blueberry shrub is pest free.

    C&S, I have three sons and a daughter I can loan out! LOL! We have voles too. They are my greatest challenge.

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  9. Cute little acrobatic caterpillars! Maybe the 'c' form confuses the birds? So many! I would have had to live and let live. I'm not good at exterminating!

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  10. I've had to do the same thing with tent caterpillars. Your caterpillars are pretty cool looking critters, though. Watching them freeze into a C would make me laugh. :o)

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  11. Hahaha for Donna and Toni, but i cannot touch them either. I just love to look at them. They are more beautiful than our hairy grey ones, which i also posted months ago. Eeeew and yucks too! I stood in awe with your son who not only pick them but has to touch them again for counting. Some more eeeew!

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  12. I have to rush out now and check my blueberries for C-forming caterpillars and move the hose while I'm out there. Thanks.

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  13. What a cool post! It looks like they are trying to spell something out to you... or perhaps perform the YMCA? hahahahahahaha

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