Saturday, August 13, 2011
There are some cottonwood sprouts growing in and along the creek. I don't know if they are from seeds, or from the roots of nearby trees, but there are a lot of them, and I know they are likely to be mowed down at any time.
I don't know how I managed to see this caterpillar, or several of his relatives, but they are living and feeding on the cottonwood leaves.
I had never seen this kind of caterpillar before, so of course, I had to collect one to take home with me, where I identified it as genus Furcula. The very back legs, the anal prolegs, have evolved into a forked tail called a stemapod. I was a little afraid that it might be poisonous, but it turns out that it only looks poisonous.
After spending the night at my house and not moving or eating, the caterpillar shed its skin.
This was the first chance I had to take a picture of the split tail.
I also got this weird shot of his old head capsule. I think it was dangling by a fine silk thread. Note the size difference between the old and the new head.
The prolegs are the pairs of legs that a caterpillar uses, and then loses once it pupates and morphs into an adult 6 legged butterfly or moth. I just think prolegs look cool.
And, speaking of butterfly or moth, this will become a moth. I'm not really sure exactly what it will look like, because it could be one of a few different Furcula species that might be found here. So we will have to wait and see.
Additional information from my research:
I came upon this great blog which had a photo of a caterpillar that looked like mine.
I found this page about stinging caterpillars that set me at ease about Furcula.