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Tuesday, December 30, 2008

One Less Army of Worms


The strange weather this weekend resulted in the awakening of several kinds of wildlife. As I mentioned previously in Leptoglossus occidentalis, indoors we've had fruit flies, black flies, Asian ladybugs, spiders, and the leaffooted bug.

As I was coming across the yard yesterday I realized that there were several hundred of these caterpillars on top of the snow. Some were crawling along, like this one, while others were curled... not dead, but definitely slowed by the return of chilly air after Saturday's temperatures in the 50s.

So it took me an extra day to be sure of the identification on these. They looked something like army worms, but they are darker than I expected, and the three lines that are usually prominent on army worms didn't show much at all till I caught the caterpillar in the harsh light of the camera's flash.

I sent the picture off to someone who knows a lot more about these things than I do, Bill Oehlke, and he confirmed the armyworm (or perhaps some other cutworm) theory. At any rate, these are not some gorgeous butterfly larvae that will now be decimated for having awakened too early. Armyworms are serious pests of grasses-- read cereal grains and corn. They turn into drab "miller" moths.

As part of their life cycle the caterpillars overwinter just beneath the surface of the ground, and emerge in the spring to begin feeding on vegetation. Well, they got a surprise! Before they even discovered that the vegetation was not forthcoming they got blasted back into winter.

Oh, and "armyworm?" They received this name because of their practice of crawling in long lined masses of worms to find food when they emerge from the ground. I'm not a fan of seeing critters dying in droves, but I don't think these are the good guys, so I'm trying to ignore the carnage outside the kitchen door.

Here's Bill's Butterfly and Moth Caterpillar Identification Guide

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