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Sunday, July 27, 2014

Lots of Crawling

 
Lots of crawling, no other changes.

This morning, they had moved up to the very top leaves of the milkweed.

milkweed tussock caterpillars

When I got home this evening, they sure weren't up top. The yellow oval is the leaf they were on yesterday. The red is where they were this morning.

milkweed tussock caterpillars

They had all fallen or crawled down to the bottom leaves. This is the first time they've moved downwards. Everything below them is covered with frass. That's a technical word for caterpillar poop.

milkweed tussock caterpillars

No sign at all of the big guys. This tale may be just about told.

See Who Will Survive
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Saturday, July 26, 2014

Who Will Survive?

 
Things had not essentially changed this morning. It was true that the dark caterpillars were in the process of breaking through to that first instar that looks like a miniature final instar. They must not move much while they are shedding.

Here was the scene at 10:30 this morning. If you look on the left of the pile of 'pillars you'll see a few pieces of exuviae. Have to cement that word in my mind.

No sign at all of the two larger brethren. I thought the theme for the day was going to be "it doesn't pay to stand out from the crowd."

milkweed tussock caterpillar

I was gone all afternoon, and then HAD to take a nap when I got home. Things certainly had changed by 8:30 tonight! Once the shedding is complete, they must be violently hungry! This the top of the leaf... what's left of it.

milkweed tussock caterpillar

The bottom of what surface there still is is also covered.

milkweed tussock caterpillar

Look how they are lined up around the hole like animals at a feeding trough. Well, I guess they ARE animals at a feeding trough. Remember, each of these is about a centimeter long.

milkweed tussock caterpillar

And, look who appeared along the stalk! I have no idea where he has been. Of course, it could be a she. Caterpillars do have gender, but they don't mate until they become moths or butterflies, and I'd have to kill the caterpillar and dissect it to have any chance of determining the sex. In case we've forgotten, these will be milkweed tussock moths, also called milkweed tiger moths.

milkweed tussock caterpillar

The big guy is about an inch long now and proportionally larger around. So he must have been hunkered down somewhere going through another change too. He's now lower on the stalk than all the others. I wonder if he fell off and crawled back to the plant. This morning one of the little ones fell off and I watched it rapidly crawl under a stick on the ground. Do they sense danger when off the leaf?

He still doesn't seem as large to me as mature ones I've seen, so maybe there is one more change or maybe they can grow somewhat within each instar. Wikipedia says they are gregarious until the third instar. That's the first one that looks orange and black.

As they become loners and crawl off to cocoon, I probably won't be able to find that. And then, that has to overwinter, so unless I confined it somehow and then really watched full time in the spring it's unlikely I'll see the final change to the moth.

Meanwhile, it doesn't seem likely that a large percentage of these will survive.

I have no idea what the benefits of this moth are. They don't taste good because of feeding on milkweed, although one article said that bats aren't much deterred by the taste. Do the moths pollinate certain plants? The caterpillars certainly don't do a milkweed plant any good!



See You Take the Low Road
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Friday, July 25, 2014

You Take the Low Road...

 
You take the low road, and I'll take the high road, and I'll be a goner afore ya'.

So, there are other good things going on in my life, but I've got a lot invested in these caterpillars now. I have to see how this turns out.

This morning, I looked first on the underside of the leaf, and there were all the creamy worms, and one of the black and orange ones.

milkweed tussock moth

I went hunting for the other one in the 4th instar and found him and a couple of siblings on the top of the leaf.

milkweed tussock moth

I was gone all day long, but when I got home tonight nobody was left on top of the leaf! Is the top smoother and harder to walk on and they fell off? Did something eat them because they were more visible? I thought that eating milkweed made them unpalatable. Did they just win a Darwin Award and fall off for no particular reason? I sure don't see any on the ground, but hey... it's not like a smooth surface where they would stand out.

Underneath... the one 4th instar, and still the pile of others. But look at them. They are definitely darker. Did I catch them just as they are shedding? Do they sort of break out all over instead of shedding like a snake? And what is that white webby stuff? They wouldn't be making cocoons until they were in the final caterpillar stage, I don't think.

milkweed tussock moth

Stay tuned!



See It's a Twofer
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Thursday, July 24, 2014

It's a Twofer

 
The caterpillar situation has remained stable all day. So I guess the answer to one question is: As they get larger, they don't change instars as quickly.

Here's what I found this morning. A lot fewer caterpillars, all on the back of the large upper leaf.

milkweed tussock moth caterpillar

And now there are two of the 4th instar- the very small orange and black caterpillar.

milkweed tussock moth caterpillar

It was the same at lunch, and the same this evening.

I went for a hike with some friends today. More about that on Sunday. You'll know why, then.

See The Prodigy
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Wednesday, July 23, 2014

The Prodigy

 
Loretta, Ramona and I took a fun walk at Nordhouse Dunes today and saw some awesome plants, but I think I'll have to save that, so I can continue the caterpillar tale.

First thing this morning, I went out to check the milkweed plant. Here's what I found. The bare stalk sticking out to the left is the leaf they were on yesterday! The are mostly on the upper right leaf.

milkweed tussock moth caterpillars

When I turned it over... wow! One- only one- caterpillar has gone to instar 4, and now looks like a tiny version of the final instar, at about a half inch in length. See his orange markings with the black tufts?

milkweed tussock moth caterpillars

If you had asked me before watching this how long each instar phase lasts I would have guessed a week. Each one has been about one day! I went back out at 1 pm to check again. They were moving to the only large upper leaf remaining.

milkweed tussock moth caterpillars

And where's the child prodigy? He appears to be out there exploring new territory with more boldness than his siblings.

milkweed tussock moth caterpillars

When I checked before dark, they were all on that upper leaf, but there was still only the one instar 4. I wonder if they will figure out to go down the stalk when they run out of leaves.

See Hungry, Hungry Caterpillars
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