Dance like your lives depend on it!

White-marked tussock, Orgyia leucostigma, caterpillars are a crowd favorite, and even years into rearing them, breeding them, and exploring their bizarre natural histories, we are still witnessing and capturing new behaviors to share with you here. After each shed, the caterpillars find themselves immediately vulnerable. Their arsenal of different defensive setae, or hairs, are wet and matted and relatively useless against any attackers that happen by. So what do they do? They twist and dance to fluff up their hairs and spines! Most hairy caterpillars writhe and twist to engage their defenses after a shed, but the Orgyia tussocks go further. They need to rub their hairs across a set of red i

CATERPILLAR OF THE WEEK PART II:  Sicya macularia - Beautiful Pupa

If you thought our Sicya macularia caterpillar was beautiful, then check out their pupa! During open hours last week, myself and three visitors were looking through our nursery when we saw something shimmering between some folded aspen leaves being held together by a thin layer of silk in our Sicya macularia habitat. When we investigated, we were all shocked to see this golden pupa! Since this is the first time we have reared this species at The Caterpillar Lab, and perhaps some of the first to EVER rear this species, we weren't sure what to expect. I think I LITERALLY jumped with joy when I saw it! Seeing surprises like this always prompts so many questions. What's the benefit to having suc

CATERPILLAR OF THE WEEK:  Sicya macularia - the Sharp-lined Yellow

Many caterpillars physically mimic their surroundings to avoid detection from birds, and our new CATERPILLAR OF THE WEEK, Sicya macularia - the Sharp-lined Yellow, is a stunning example of this. You may have seen some of our early season twig displays with very convincing brown or tan twig caterpillars, but the Sicya, or SiMa as we call it in the lab, have two dorsal protrusions and beautiful lime green and burnt red colors, that expertly mirror a young thorny twig. In the wild it’s important to not only look the part, but ACT the part too, so our COTW will remain completely still with its body outstretched, combining physical and behavioral mimicry to perfectly hide in plain sight. The Shar

Cecropia Caterpillar Spins its Cocoon

Last night we made our first attempt to capture a time-lapse of our largest native caterpillar here in New Hampshire spinning its magnificent cocoon. Hyalophora cecropia, the Cecropia Giant Silk Moth, gets as large as a breakfast sausage and spins a huge, complex, double layered cocoon - we want to see every moment! Check out near the end of this film, when the caterpillar appears to apply some liquid to the silk that quickly dries, staining the cocoon brown. Most finished cecropia cocoons are tan or brown - is this the color of the dried silk, or some other product of the caterpillar that we aren't aware of yet?? Stay tuned this summer - we hope to get the ultimate cecropia cocoon spinning

CATERPILLAR OF THE WEEK PART II:  Pistol Casebearer (Coleophora species)

Our pistol casebearers (Coleophora species) are more than just a pretty shell. Most of the time they appear as an unmoving growth on a twig, but gentle tickles with a paintbrush are enough to get these little guys moving and exploring for our camera. Silk clearly plays a huge role in a casebearer's life, even beyond using it to create their mobile homes. The casebearers were quick to release silk and hang down when disturbed, and eagerly reinforce their ties to a twig perch when remaining in place for any amount of time. I hope you enjoy this video of a hard to observe creature! - Sam Director

CATERPILLAR OF THE WEEK:  Pistol Casebearer (Coleophora species)

There is so much to see if we only bother to look. This week's COTW is the Pistol Casebearer (Coleophora species), a creature that we have encountered before, but had never taken the time to examine closely before today! We start out each spring collecting vast amounts of leafing-out cherry to feed our growing collection of eastern tent caterpillars back in the lab. And each spring we notice tiny, crusty, burned-looking... things... attached to the stems or clumsily dangling from the fresh leaves as we divide up the plants for feeding time. We have known for a while that these charred pieces of animate detritus were some kind of case-bearing caterpillar - but we never took the time to take a


Our Virginia Ctenucha may look soft from afar, but as you can see from the photo, that fuzzy appearance is put into perspective with a close up look at the hairs, or better referred to as spines now. These barbed spines have some unique properties. It’s been suggested that the black spines may change into white spines as the Ctenucha sheds depending on the season. This is to more efficiently thermoregulate. By switching to white spines in the warmer months with greater sunshine, they are able to reflect more solar radiation; effectively keeping themselves from overheating. (See - Fields, PG and McNeil, JN. 1988. The importance of seasonal variation in hair colouration for the thermoregulatio


Welcome back for another edition of COTW! This week we will set our sights on the Virgnia Ctenucha (Ctenucha virginica) in the Tiger & Lichen moth subfamily (Erebidae: Arctiinae). With bright warning coloration and tufts of barb-like hairs covering its body, everything about this caterpillar says “DON’T TRY TO EAT ME OR I WILL MESS YOU UP!” But even though it looks like it could be a venomous species, it’s actually quite harmless to humans. Both the common name of the caterpillar AND its subfamily are a little bit misleading as well. The name implies that it might only be found in Virginia, but this is a wide-spread native species in most of Canada & the USA which is actually more commonly f

Hatching Buck Moth Caterpillars!

Yesterday during open hours at The Caterpillar Lab one of our overwintered New England Buck Moth (Hemileuca lucina) egg masses began to hatch! It was rewarding to watch the process with visitors under our digital microscopes, and then to film as dozens of tiny black heads chewed their way out from within the winter-hardened egg shells. Buck moths are unique among New England's Saturniid Giant Silk Moths (think Luna, Cecropia, Io) in that they fly in the fall and overwinter as eggs rather than pupae. They are also a venomous species with stinging spines. Note how when they first emerge from their eggs the spines are flattened, pale, and soft. One of their first actions as caterpillars is to i

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The Caterpillar Lab fosters greater appreciation and care for the complexity and beauty of our local natural history through live caterpillar educational programs, research initiatives, and photography and film projects. We believe that an increased awareness of one’s local environment is the foundation on which healthy and responsible attitudes towards the broader natural systems of this world is built.

© 2015 CATERPILLAR LAB INC.  With original artwork by Heather Reid and Samuel Jaffe


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