Intriguing Owlet Moth and Caterpillar Photography Slideshow

Check out a selection of quirky and stunning owlet moth and caterpillar images from all over eastern North America.

| July 15, 2012

  • Sordid Snout Caterpillar
    "Owlet Caterpillars of Eastern North America" showcases 2,100 color photographs illustrating 800 species of owlet moths and caterpillars, many of them never documented before. Captured here is a Sordid Snout Caterpillar, Hypena sordidula. 
    PHOTO: PRINCETON UNIVERSITY PRESS
  • Sordid Snout Moth
    Sordid Snout Moth
    PRINCETON UNIVERSITY PRESS
  • Citrus Fruitpiercer Caterpillar
    Citrus Fruitpiercer Caterpillar, Gonodonta nutrix: While the handsome black and orange caterpillars often attract attention from growers and the casual passerby, the larvae are rarely abundant enough to cause significant damage.
    PRINCETON UNIVERSITY PRESS
  • Pink Underwing Caterpillar
    Pink Underwing Caterpillar, Catocala concumbens: This willow- and poplar-feeding underwing caterpillar is mature mostly in July. 
    PRINCETON UNIVERSITY PRESS
  • Three-staff Underwing Moth
    Three-staff Underwing Moth
    PRINCETON UNIVERSITY PRESS
  • Citrus Fruitpiercer Moth
    Citrus Fruitpiercer Moth
    PRINCETON UNIVERSITY PRESS
  • Three-staff Underwing Caterpillar
    Three-staff Underwing Caterpillar, Catocala amestris: The belly of this caterpillar is marked in black and yellow which likely serves as a flash coloration that disappears once the caterpillar rights itself.
    PRINCETON UNIVERSITY PRESS
  • Pink Underwing Moth
    Pink Underwing Moth
    PRINCETON UNIVERSITY PRESS
  • White Underwing Moth
    White Underwing Moth
    PRINCETON UNIVERSITY PRESS
  • White Underwing Caterpillar
    White Underwing Caterpillar, Catocala relicta: This caterpillar feeds on aspen, other poplars and willow trees.
    PRINCETON UNIVERSITY PRESS
  • Gray Cypress Looper Caterpillar
    Gray Cypress Looper Caterpillar, Cutina albopunctella: Common in swamps, blackwater streams and other cypress wetlands, this caterpillar hangs out on branches with new growth. The light green colors there help with its camoflauge.
    PRINCETON UNIVERSITY PRESS
  • Orange Panopoda Caterpillar
    Orange Panopoda Caterpillar, Panopoda repanda: The Orange Panopoda caterpillar has a large head and tapered body which is unusual compared to other owlets.
    PRINCETON UNIVERSITY PRESS
  • Gray Cypress Looper Moth
    Gray Cypress Looper Moth
    PRINCETON UNIVERSITY PRESS
  • Curve-lined Owlet Caterpillar
    Curve-lined Owlet Caterpillar, Phyprosopus callitrichoides: This caterpillar mimics dead leaves with its fantastically bizarre and wholly uncaterpillarlike tenticle. 
    PRINCETON UNIVERSITY PRESS
  • Orange Panopoda Moth
    Orange Panopoda Moth
    PRINCETON UNIVERSITY PRESS
  • Curve-lined Owlet Moth
    Curve-lined Owlet Moth
    PRINCETON UNIVERSITY PRESS
  • Light Marathyssa Caterpillar
    Light Marathyssa Caterpillar, Marathyssa Basalis: Poison Ivy is this caterpillar's food of choice.
    PRINCETON UNIVERSITY PRESS
  • Blurry-patched Nola Caterpillar
    Blurry-patched Nola Caterpillar, Nola cilicoides: By tunneling into leaves, this larvae will give away its presence by leaving large blotches behind.
    PRINCETON UNIVERSITY PRESS
  • Pink-patched Looper Caterpillar
    Pink-patched Looper Caterpillar, Eosphoropteryx thyatyroides: Much of Canada, the Georgia mountains and Missouri are habitat for this caterpillar that eats grasses and sedges.
    PRINCETON UNIVERSITY PRESS
  • Blurry-patched Nola Moth
    Blurry-patched Nola Moth
    PRINCETON UNIVERSITY PRESS
  • Yellow Spragueia Caterpillar
    Yellow Spragueia Caterpillar, Spragueia apicalis: Bird-dropping caterpillars like this one drop and remain motionless when disturbed.
    PRINCETON UNIVERSITY PRESS
  • Square-eyed Dagger Caterpillar
    Square-eyed Dagger Caterpillar, Acronicta quadrata: This caterpillar eats serviceberry, cherry, willow and poplar trees.
    PRINCETON UNIVERSITY PRESS
  • Yellow Spragueia Moth
    Yellow Spragueia Moth
    PRINCETON UNIVERSITY PRESS
  • The Laugher Caterpillar
    The Laugher Caterpillar, Charadra deridens: This caterpillar matures from late June to October and does well on tough summer foliage.
    PRINCETON UNIVERSITY PRESS
  • Hieroglyphic Caterpillar
    Hieroglyphic Caterpillar, Diphthera festiva: The coloring of these caterpillars warns birds and other predators that their skin is protected by chemicals.
    PRINCETON UNIVERSITY PRESS
  • The Laugher Moth
    The Laugher Moth
    PRINCETON UNIVERSITY PRESS
  • Hieroglyphic Moth
    Hieroglyphic Moth
    PRINCETON UNIVERSITY PRESS
  • The Brother Moth
    The Brother Moth
    PRINCETON UNIVERSITY PRESS
  • The Brother Caterpillar
    The Brother Caterpillar, Raphia frater: Brother caterpillars rest on leaf undersides by day and are easily found by turning branches or examining leaves from below.
    PRINCETON UNIVERSITY PRESS
  • Oak Dagger Caterpillar
    Eclipsed Oak Dagger Caterpillar, Acronicta increta: This species of the Dagger caterpillar has complex and bright white dorsal patches that fluoresce under far ultraviolet radiation.
    PRINCETON UNIVERSITY PRESS
  • Narrow-winged Dagger Moth
    Narrow-winged Dagger Moth
    PRINCETON UNIVERSITY PRESS
  • Miller Dagger Caterpillar
    Miller Dagger Caterpillar, Acronicta vulpina: This hairy caterpillar can be found in transcontinental Canada and the Great Lakes region.
    PRINCETON UNIVERSITY PRESS
  • Narrow-winged Dagger Caterpillar
    Narrow-winged Dagger Caterpillar, Acronicta lanceolaria: This caterpillar eats alder, blackberry, blueberry, bush clover, oak, red pine, spirea, sweet fern, willow and many other low-growing perennial plants and trees.
    PRINCETON UNIVERSITY PRESS
  • Lesser Oak Dagger Caterpillar
    Lesser Oak Dagger Caterpillar, Acronicta exilis: These caterpillars need wood or bark in order to go into pupation.
    PRINCETON UNIVERSITY PRESS
  • Cottonwood Dagger Caterpillar
    Cottonwood Dagger Caterpillar, Acronicta lepusculina: Cottonwood and other poplars, birch, alder and willow trees play host to this flashy caterpillar.
    PRINCETON UNIVERSITY PRESS
  • Harris's Three-spot Moth
    Harris's Three-spot Moth
    PRINCETON UNIVERSITY PRESS
  • Harris's Three-spot Caterpillar
    Harris's Three-spot Caterpillar, Harrisimemna trisignata: By almost any measure, this is an exceptional animal — the caterpillar resembles bird droppings, a pile of debris, a moldy cadaver, a spider and who knows what else.
    PRINCETON UNIVERSITY PRESS
  • Sunflower Seedcopper Caterpillar
    Sunflower Seedcopper Caterpillar, Stiria rugifrons: This caterpillar is unmistakable in shape, coloration, behavior and always appears in association with sunflowers.
    PRINCETON UNIVERSITY PRESS
  • Pine Sallow Moth
    Pine Sallow Moth
    PRINCETON UNIVERSITY PRESS
  • Pine Sallow Caterpillar
    Pine Sallow Caterpillar, Feralia major: This emerald caterpillar with creamy stripes hides among pine barrens, woodlands and forests with both hard and white pine trees.
    PRINCETON UNIVERSITY PRESS
  • Mustard Sallow Caterpillar
    Mustard Sallow Caterpillar, Pyreferra hesperidago: Waxy white with bands of lemon yellow, this caterpillar matures in May and in June.
    PRINCETON UNIVERSITY PRESS
  • Hitched Arches Caterpillar
    Hitched Arches Caterpillar, Melanchra adjuncta: This caterpiller consumes many plants that are toxic to other generalists such as bracken, elderbery, milkweed and parsley. This caterpillar regurgitates when threatened.
    PRINCETON UNIVERSITY PRESS
  • Sunflower Seedcopper
    Sunflower Seedcopper Caterpillar, Stiria rugifrons: The texture and behavior of this caterpillar matches its sunflower host to perfection.
    PRINCETON UNIVERSITY PRESS
  • Mustard Sallow Moth
    Mustard Sallow Moth
    PRINCETON UNIVERSITY PRESS
  • Hitched Arches Moth
    Hitched Arches Moth
    PRINCETON UNIVERSITY PRESS
  • Convict Caterpillar
    Convict Caterpillar, Xanthopastis regnatrix: The Convict Caterpillar appears to have two heads to its predators and is almost certainly protected by chemicals in its skin.
    PRINCETON UNIVERSITY PRESS
  • Convict Moth
    Convict Moth
    PRINCETON UNIVERSITY PRESS
  • Western Bean Moth
    Western Bean Moth
    PRINCETON UNIVERSITY PRESS
  • Owlet Caterpillars of Eastern North America
    "Owlet Caterpillars of Eastern North America" by David L. Wagner, Dale F. Schweitzer, J. Bolling Sullivan & Richard C. Reardon is an illustrated field guide that identifies 800 owlet caterpillar species. 
    PRINCETON UNIVERSITY PRESS
  • Citrus Fruitpiercer Caterpillar 2
    Citrus Fruitpiercer Caterpillar, Gonodonta nutrix, stretched out: This caterpillar's prominent orange or salmon spots are highly variable.
    PHOTO: PRINCETON UNIVERSITY PRESS
  • Western Bean Cutworm
    Western Bean Cutworm, Striacosta albicosta: This cutworm is principally found in agricultural fields of the Great Plains from Minnesota southward into Central America. They feed mostly at night by tunneling.
    PRINCETON UNIVERSITY PRESS

  • Sordid Snout Caterpillar
  • Sordid Snout Moth
  • Citrus Fruitpiercer Caterpillar
  • Pink Underwing Caterpillar
  • Three-staff Underwing Moth
  • Citrus Fruitpiercer Moth
  • Three-staff Underwing Caterpillar
  • Pink Underwing Moth
  • White Underwing Moth
  • White Underwing Caterpillar
  • Gray Cypress Looper Caterpillar
  • Orange Panopoda Caterpillar
  • Gray Cypress Looper Moth
  • Curve-lined Owlet Caterpillar
  • Orange Panopoda Moth
  • Curve-lined Owlet Moth
  • Light Marathyssa Caterpillar
  • Blurry-patched Nola Caterpillar
  • Pink-patched Looper Caterpillar
  • Blurry-patched Nola Moth
  • Yellow Spragueia Caterpillar
  • Square-eyed Dagger Caterpillar
  • Yellow Spragueia Moth
  • The Laugher Caterpillar
  • Hieroglyphic Caterpillar
  • The Laugher Moth
  • Hieroglyphic Moth
  • The Brother Moth
  • The Brother Caterpillar
  • Oak Dagger Caterpillar
  • Narrow-winged Dagger Moth
  • Miller Dagger Caterpillar
  • Narrow-winged Dagger Caterpillar
  • Lesser Oak Dagger Caterpillar
  • Cottonwood Dagger Caterpillar
  • Harris's Three-spot Moth
  • Harris's Three-spot Caterpillar
  • Sunflower Seedcopper Caterpillar
  • Pine Sallow Moth
  • Pine Sallow Caterpillar
  • Mustard Sallow Caterpillar
  • Hitched Arches Caterpillar
  • Sunflower Seedcopper
  • Mustard Sallow Moth
  • Hitched Arches Moth
  • Convict Caterpillar
  • Convict Moth
  • Western Bean Moth
  • Owlet Caterpillars of Eastern North America
  • Citrus Fruitpiercer Caterpillar 2
  • Western Bean Cutworm

Owlet Caterpillars of Eastern North America (Princeton University Press, 2011) is a lavishly illustrated field guide featuring more than 800 species of the most common, interesting, beautiful and important owlet moths and caterpillars found in eastern North America. Thousands of stunning images, information on larval diets, natural enemies and biology will help you identify the owlets near you. The slideshow in this article's Image Gallery features 50 of our favorite owlet moth and caterpillar images from the book. The following text has been taken from the book's introduction. 

By virtue of their sheer diversity and abundance, owlet caterpillars and adults have become enmeshed in the ecological processes of forests, grasslands, and other terrestrial ecosystems. Owlet caterpillars are common on trees and most woody plants in the spring, when foliage is soft and rich with nutrients. Another peak of larval abundance occurs in late summer and fall, mostly on composites and grasses.

Owlet moths represent one of the most successful branches on the tree of life, whether measured in terms of species numbers, mass, or ecological importance. Caterpillars are a staple for insectivorous vertebrates. Birds are particularly reliant on caterpillars, and many insectivorous species time their nesting activities to periods of peak larval abundance—nestling survival would be appreciably lower in forests lacking owlet larvae. Goatsuckers move with storm fronts to feed on the abundance of moths that push northward on the leading edge of tropical storm cells— we estimate that greater than 90% of the moth biomass in these migratory swarms is made up of armyworms (Mythimna and Spodoptera), loopers (various Plusiinae), and other owlets.

Insectivorous mammals, including mice, shrews, raccoons, skunks, foxes, and many others, consume cutworms and other owlet caterpillars (and their pupae) found near the ground; some mice ascend shrubs and trees during their nocturnal forays for insect prey. Some insectivorous bats are dependent on moths and, by default, noctuoids. The colony of Mexican free-tailed bats that roosts under the Congress Avenue Bridge in Austin, Texas, is said to harvest more than 35,000 pounds of insects during the course of some nights. And the colony of 20 million Mexican free-tails that pours forth at twilight from Bracken Cave, Texas, purportedly consumes more than 100 tons of insects each night before returning to its roost. No doubt a healthy fraction, and perhaps the largest, is made up of noctuoids. Even mammals as large as bears feed on cutworm adults. Of particular importance are aggregations of the Army Cutworm (Euxoa auxiliaris), which aestivates by the millions in talus slopes in the Rockies. The communal gatherings are a critical food store for the grizzly bears of Yellowstone National Park and presumably for bear populations elsewhere. A single bear is estimated to eat 20,000 to 30,000 moths a day during portions of the summer—as much as one-third of the calorie required for an entire year may derive from the consumption of owlet moths (Mattson et al. 1991; French et al. 1994; White et al. 1998a, b).



The pollination services provided by noctuoids are underappreciated (Committee on the Status of Pollinators in North America 2007). Many cuculliines, hadenines, heliothines, plusiines, xylenines, and myriad others avidly seek nectar at flowers. Owlets are among the most common insects to visit flowers of apple, apricot, aster, basswood, buttonbush, campion, cherry, fireweed, goldenrod, jasmine, lobelia, milkweed, various orchids, phlox, pinks, red maple, wild plum, willow, white snakeroot and other eupatoriums, as well as other plants that offer nectar at night. Noctuidae may be the principal pollinators of Platanthera and other white-flowered orchids. 

The indirect effect of plant-animal interactions on the quality and culture of our day-to-day lives are too commonly overlooked.

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