They hatched out just a couple of days ago, but they’re already noticeably larger. They will grow until their skins can’t expand any further, and then shed. On the bottom right corner, you can see the silk strands that they lay down constantly – these function as a safety line, if one of them falls off a branch.
These silkworm eggs are starting to turn “blue” – the developing worm inside separates from the shell, and they get a hazy lighter color. About half the eggs in this photo are blue – the others are likely nonviable.
If you look really close, and you’ve got a good magnification on your camera or hand lens, you can see the caterpillar curled inside the egg.
These have reached the head pigmentation stage; you can see the little dark heads. They’ll hatch within another day or two.
The Calleta caterpillars (Eupackardia calleta) started hatching today. These beautiful moths are native to much of the American southwest. I am raising them mostly for the fun of it – they do produce silk, but it’s not one I’ve made into yarn yet.
This tiny hatchling is eating cenizo – Leucophyllum frutescens – which many of my gardening friends call purple sage. Not related to the Salvia sages at all.
The caterpillars are covered with tiny bristles called scoli; these aren’t spiky to the touch for a person, but they would be get in the way if you were, say, a spider trying to put the bite on a caterpillar.
The insides of the hatched eggshells are beautiful – like rosy opals. The colors remind me of Maxfield Parrish.
Every year it happens… the leaves pop out on the local mulberry trees, and then it’s time to start the silkworms.
The Ancient Wisdom version says that you should start the silkworm eggs when the leaves are the size of a mouse’s ear. We don’t have the kind of long, slow spring where that lasts for long – so by the time I get a chance to snap a picture, they’re almost the size of a dime. This is a feral white mulberry tree in my yard in south Dallas.
These are the eggs. You can tell from the size of the fibers in the torn paper towel edges, these are pretty tiny. They’re about the size of poppy seeds.
When you get really, really close up, you can see the texture of the egg shell. The forming caterpillar embryos inside are in a state of rest called diapause; it allows them to survive through winter temperatures without dying, and they begin to metabolize and develop once they warm up in the spring.
I’ve enjoyed nature all my life. I was that kid, tromping in the woods, turning over logs to marvel at the life beneath, watching the patterns of light and shadow on leaves to see the hidden snake. Getting a camera with a good macro, and learning to take close-up shots, has taught me to look even closer – now, even without the camera, I see all kinds of neat things happening that I never even knew were there. Evolution is amazing, and the diversity of life is profound and humbling.
This house has been a revelation as well – our yard backs up to a wooded creek, and we garden organically, so there’s an abundance of life that I think would be missing in a lot of city dwellings. I’ve seen things here that I had previously only heard of, and many that I never even knew existed. We’ve got mantis flies, and tortoise beetles, and cuckoo wasps, and thread snakes. I’ve found several things where I’ve looked them up and read “Not much is known about their diet or habits” and just had to smile and shake my head at the amazing depth and complexity of life.
I found this cool tiny critter one night, luring moths to a sheet with a black light to see what would show up. It’s called Petrophila jaliscalis, less than half an inch long, and my eye was caught by the beautiful spangles on its rear wings. I couldn’t find anything like it, searching on the web. I put a request on Bugguide.net (an amazing resource, if you’re trying to ID something weird) and they pinned it down. This odd genus lives as caterpillars on stones in running water – creeks, streams, rivers.
What I didn’t find out until a lot more recently – there’s a very cool reason for the spangles on its wings. This whole genus mimics jumping spiders to help scare off predators. I found a jumping spider in the kitchen one afternoon, and got the macro lens and the ring light and shot some pictures. I’m still working on getting a firm ID for this spider, asking some smart folks on a Facebook spiders group; so far, it’s looking like Maevia inclemens.
Keep in mind, this whole spider is about the size of a pencil eraser – but with a macro lens, you can see it in magnifying-glass detail.
Here, it’s on the border where the white trim meets the yellow-painted wall… you get a sense of scale from the bubbles in the paint.
and then you adjust the lighting, and you shoot, and you shoot, and you find where the damned thing ran around the corner of the wall, and you move, and you shoot some more, and then you crop, and you adjust… and you get the portrait. I’m not a trained photographer, and I know there’s a lot that I could have done better – but I’m proud of this one.
It wasn’t until I saw an article about a spider-mimicry in metalmark moths, that I thought, “Hmm… those metallic marks look like the ones I saw on the little guy on the sheet!” and started looking into it.
And it all came together. I still want to get a better angled shot, so you can really see the “eye” and “leg” markings in the same positions. If you squint your eyes at the moth, you can definitely see the spider – and if you were some hungry bug, you might think twice. This is one of a dozen or more examples of Batesian mimicry I’ve seen in the yard; we’ve got ant-spiders, and bee-flies, and so many scary eyes.
Another cool link, showing the amazing underwater caterpillar in its *SILKEN CASE* (see, you knew there was going to be silk involved) –
I spent some time in the yard today with my Canon Rebel T2i. I love the convenience of having a camera in my phone, but it just doesn’t have the glass… with a 60mm macro lens, I can get a lot more detail, and catch more interesting things.
Another flower on the same vine. The three bees were wrestling all over one another in a pile, and it seemed really odd – they usually do that for pollen, but not so much nectar in the passionflowers. Then, when I was looking at the images in the camera, I realized that they have RIPPED OFF the pollen anthers, and are working them over in the middle of the flower. They remind me of Macbeth’s witches around their cauldron.
This exceptionally handsome Viceroy butterfly, Limenitis archippus, has set up a territory which includes the fig tree, the Maximilian sunflowers, and part of the creekside brush. He will aggressively chase any of the Fritilaries or other butterflies that come close, and sometimes he even buzzes the wasps. He’s a little petty tyrant.
I just wish they were as fragrant as their cousins – Cestrum nocturnum is my favorite fragrant flower in the world; I keep a bush in a pot, and bring it in to the bedroom when it’s in flower. It only flowers at night. This one has pretty flowers all day long – but no smell at all.
I have been busy getting two big moth-related events put together, and not blogging about them… I promise I’ll try to get blurbs up about them, because there was a lot of cool stuff and I want to be able to remember and reference them (with photos! Mantisflies, Hercules beetles, scorpions oh my!), but for now, here’s the lovely article that the Dallas Morning News did about our Blacklight the Night at Texas Discovery Gardens last Tuesday! The response from the public was amazingly good, the evening was lovely, and we had a fantastic time.
Photo is by Dallas Morning News contributor Brandon Wade.
This lovely little thing is Passiflora mooreana. It’s easy to suspect the photo for making it look kind of faded and blue, but that’s the way it looks in real life – the whole plant has a kind of sage green tint to it.
a solo shot in the light of the westering sun:
They smell sweet, too. I really love the ones with sweet scents. It’s surprisingly powerful, for such a small flower – the flower is only about two inches across, if that. Here it is next to P. caerulea.
and a closeup of the center:
another one that’s blooming well right now, is Passiflora incarnata “Bill’s Delight,” a pure-white selection of the native species from Companion Plants nursery. I had one of these a year ago, and then it suddenly died from the roots up – it looked like slugs ate the skin off the stem. Now, it’s going gangbusters, sprawling out of its pot and putting up new shoots.
We have two big Golden Orb Weavers in the garden this year – I am going to start feeding them grasshoppers. The mantises aren’t eating them up fast enough.
\and the “Scentsation” rose that I planted for Chris is doing well – I really want for it to start putting out more flowers at a time, but it is still adapting and getting its feet under it.
This is something that I’ve always wanted to do, and have never done. Now, I’ve hung around outside buildings and watched the moths and other night-time insects come and go… but I’ve never done the full-on, out-in-the-woods, light-and-a-sheet type experience, where you trap moths with light and count and observe and all that. So, I figure it’s National Moth Week coming up a month from now, I should do it.
We’re being hosted by the Cedar Ridge Audubon Preserve, (just south of Oak Cliff) with ID guidance and leadership from Dale Clark of the Dallas County Lepidopterists’ Society. We’ll be meeting up at 8:30 PM, and staying until half past midnight, or when we get really tired. Or later, if there are lots of cool moths. It’s not a wildly exciting experience, but it’s got a certain geeky cool factor.
If you’re on Facebook, I’ve set up an event page where you can RSVP: https://www.facebook.com/events/53224811
It’s pretty straight-forward; we’re gonna look at moths and other bugs that fly up to lights, and look them up in books, and take pictures of them, and let them go after. We won’t be killing or pinning anything, because of the Audubon’s rules, although we will detain the moths to ID and photograph them.
Y’all let me know if you’re interested in coming along!
Here’s a video, with kind of an idea of what to expect: