What's That Bug? does not endorse extermination

Can’t find it!
Location: Ft. Hood, Texas
April 28, 2011 7:21 pm
Hello!
Recently I stumbled upon this caterpillar, and I’ve searched all my caterpillar books and tried the internet in vain, I can’t seem to find it. Any idea what it might be? I have found two separate individuals, both were on Ashe Juniper. Thanks!
Signature: writerwren

Pinion Caterpillar

Dear Writerwren,
Nice to hear from you again.  We have suddenly dropped below 50% with our identification success rate for your caterpillars.  We had no luck identifying your caterpillar.  We cannot even be certain if this is a butterfly caterpillar or a moth caterpillar, though we suspect it is a moth caterpillar.  We only spent 15 minutes researching the internet, and they were fruitless.  We thought that this couldn’t possibly be that difficult because you were thoughtful enough to provide us with a food plant, and juniper does not seem to be the type of plant that would have countless species feeding upon it.  We thank you for providing both a dorsal view and a lateral view.  Perhaps one of our readers will have better luck.  We are still trying to respond to the numerous emails we received during Spring Break and the quantity of mail we receive each day is spiking with the warmer weather hitting the northern latitudes.

Pinion Caterpillar

A reader comments
Unident green/white texan juniper caterpillar
Perhaps this is not the exact ID, but in perusing this link: http://www.silkmoths.bizland.com/txnorthcentralsphlarvae.htm about North Central Texas Sphingidae Larvae, I found this link: http://www.silkmoths.bizland.com/sdollii.htm which shows a juniper-eating instar of Doll’s Sphinx (Sphinx dollii) which sure looks close, except for the spike on one end.  All of the instars of sphinx caterpillars don’t necessarily have a spike, do they?
Cheers, Dee

Dear Dee,
Thanks for your comment.  We also looked closely at the larva of the Doll’s Sphinx and dismissed it as not being the same species as the submitted unknown Caterpillar, however, we were also struck by the similarity in the markings.  Some Sphinx Caterpillars do lose the caudal horn, though we do not believe the Doll’s Sphinx is one of them.  This might be an example of parallel evolution.  On his Sphingidae of the Americas website, Bill Oehlke writes:  “It is amazing to me how well the larval spiracular patches and false feet match the pattern and colour of the juniper bark. I believe there is an active intelligence at work as opposed to a gradual evolution through ‘natural selection’.”  More than one species may be taking advantage of this camouflage characteristic.  We will try to write to Bill Oehlke to get his opinion on this matter.

Karl provides another identification
Hi Daniel and Writerwren:
This is an Owlet Moth (Noctuidae) in a group known as Pinions (genus Lithophane). There are quite a few species but there is one group (the L. gauspata group) of nine species with caterpillars that are all described as bright green with white spots and rows of irregular white blotches.  As well, they all feed on cedars, cypress or juniper.  To me, this one looks most similar to L. lemmeri (Lemmer’s Pinion Moth), but the larvae eat cedars and the species is apparently limited to the east coast (although the Bugguide has tentatively identified entries from Arkansas and Oklahoma. The next closest I could find was L. longior (Longior Pinion Moth) which does feed on juniper and is apparently widespread in the west. Information on the other species is hard to find. I think with this one I will have to stop at genus Regards.  Karl

Thanks for your assistance Karl.

Dee provides another link
Hi again Daniel,
Thanks for the information on Sphingidae.  Thought all involved might be interested to see this link (http://austinbug.com/noctuidae7.html) to “Valerie’s Austin Bug Collection” who identifies L. lemmeri as larvae who are known to feed on juniper.  The picture and reference are most of the way down the page near the bottom, next to the gold caterpillar.  The short paragraph on L. lemmeri follows the paragraph on the Gold Moth.  Looks like Karl hit it spot on.
Dee

Thanks for the link Dee.  We generally throw up our hands when we receive an identification for most Noctuids and we just provide a general identification like “Owlet Moth” or “Cutworm” because so many species look so similar.  It is great to have a website to use as reference for this large and confusing group of Moths.

Karl provides endangered species data
Hi Daniel:  I found a few sites that suggested L. lemmeri presence in midwest or southwest states but I wasn’t quite convinced. The range for this species really is limited, at least officially, to the east coast from Canada to Florida, where it lives in cedar dominated swamps and forests. The larval food is given as Atlantic white-cedar and Eastern red-cedar. Perhaps this habitat is in decline, because L. lemmeri appears on ‘species of concern’ lists for virtually every state from Maine to the Carolinas. Although it is certainly possible that L. lemmeri is present in Texas (perhaps it has been missed or is a recent arrival), but it seems more likely that it is some other similar, closely related species that does feed on juniper. I can’t be sure, but I think the western L. lemmeri sightings may well be misidentifications. There are a lot of white on green Lithophane species, but I found the information on the internet to be too sparse to justify identification to species by an amateur like myself.  K

What's That Bug? does not endorse extermination
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