CATERPILLAR OF THE WEEK: Eat the leaf, live on the leaf, BECOME THE LEAF. Heterocampa biundata, the Wavy-lined Prominent, is hidden in plain sight against a fall season hickory or maple blade.
"The long summer has taken its toll on a once lush New England leafscape. What was initially strong, green, and uniform is now decorated with burned, withered edges, pot-marked with spots of fungus and decay, speckled with the galls of tiny insects, and fragmented after a sustained onslaught from a myriad of herbivores. The overall diversity of color and texture in our natural environments increases dramatically with each week that passes.
The perfect leaf image that we might hold in our minds rarely exists in nature; instead we find that any stand of late season foliage is a war-torn mosaic of consumption and infection. And it is in relation to this backdrop that our summer and fall active caterpillars have evolved. Rather than simple, green, larval tubes, we find gnarled and jagged-edged species, covered in blotches of brown, white and black, finely traced with gold veins, and often highly variable in color, from bright green to the deepest reds and oranges.
I had never fully realized the diversity of our aging forests until I began to know the caterpillars that lived within them. I studied these caterpillars down to their most minute detail, and witnessed how they grew, changed, and interacted with their host plants. Seeing caterpillars in relation to the leaves they feed upon, those leaves to the trees, and finally those trees to the forests and fields, has changed the way I understand the broader, large scale, features of my native landscape."
The Wavy-lined is just one of many fantastic leaf-edge mimics in our late season forests. They begin life looking quite different though - can anyone search back through our video library and find this COTW in its earliest stages?
- Samuel Jaffe
"Caterpillar of the week" will highlight a different species we grow in "The Caterpillar Lab" each week. We hope you will enjoy meeting the caterpillars of New England!
More information on Heterocampa biundata on bugguide here: http://bugguide.net/node/view/28225