Lepidopteran Surprises!

It was a spring for caterpillars, butterflies and moths in Texas.  But I was still surprised when I was walking to my car in May and saw clumps of caterpillars on the evergreen sumac in the parking lot.  Much to the joy of colleagues and students we watched the caterpillars devouring great sections of leaves.  What made it even more interesting was that while some of the caterpillars stayed in a tight group others had wondered off by themselves a little and would arch their backs if you peered too closely.

Curious, I contacted the LBJ Wildflower center and they put me in touch with a volunteer who was an expert in these matters.  Several emails later the caterpillar was identified as Datana perspicua or spotted Datana.  It turns out that they are the only species that uses Evergreen Sumac (Rhus virens) as a host plant and then they go underground before emerging again as an adult!

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