Intriguing Owlet Moth and Caterpillar Photography Slideshow

1 / 51
"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. 
2 / 51
Sordid Snout Moth
3 / 51
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.
4 / 51
Pink Underwing Caterpillar, Catocala concumbens: This willow- and poplar-feeding underwing caterpillar is mature mostly in July. 
5 / 51
Three-staff Underwing Moth
6 / 51
Citrus Fruitpiercer Moth
7 / 51
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.
8 / 51
Pink Underwing Moth
9 / 51
White Underwing Moth
10 / 51
White Underwing Caterpillar, Catocala relicta: This caterpillar feeds on aspen, other poplars and willow trees.
11 / 51
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.
12 / 51
Orange Panopoda Caterpillar, Panopoda repanda: The Orange Panopoda caterpillar has a large head and tapered body which is unusual compared to other owlets.
13 / 51
Gray Cypress Looper Moth
14 / 51
Curve-lined Owlet Caterpillar, Phyprosopus callitrichoides: This caterpillar mimics dead leaves with its fantastically bizarre and wholly uncaterpillarlike tenticle. 
15 / 51
Orange Panopoda Moth
16 / 51
Curve-lined Owlet Moth
17 / 51
Light Marathyssa Caterpillar, Marathyssa Basalis: Poison Ivy is this caterpillar's food of choice.
18 / 51
Blurry-patched Nola Caterpillar, Nola cilicoides: By tunneling into leaves, this larvae will give away its presence by leaving large blotches behind.
19 / 51
Pink-patched Looper Caterpillar, Eosphoropteryx thyatyroides: Much of Canada, the Georgia mountains and Missouri are habitat for this caterpillar that eats grasses and sedges.
20 / 51
Blurry-patched Nola Moth
21 / 51
Yellow Spragueia Caterpillar, Spragueia apicalis: Bird-dropping caterpillars like this one drop and remain motionless when disturbed.
22 / 51
Square-eyed Dagger Caterpillar, Acronicta quadrata: This caterpillar eats serviceberry, cherry, willow and poplar trees.
23 / 51
Yellow Spragueia Moth
24 / 51
The Laugher Caterpillar, Charadra deridens: This caterpillar matures from late June to October and does well on tough summer foliage.
25 / 51
Hieroglyphic Caterpillar, Diphthera festiva: The coloring of these caterpillars warns birds and other predators that their skin is protected by chemicals.
26 / 51
The Laugher Moth
27 / 51
Hieroglyphic Moth
28 / 51
The Brother Moth
29 / 51
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.
30 / 51
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.
31 / 51
Narrow-winged Dagger Moth
32 / 51
Miller Dagger Caterpillar, Acronicta vulpina: This hairy caterpillar can be found in transcontinental Canada and the Great Lakes region.
33 / 51
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.
34 / 51
Lesser Oak Dagger Caterpillar, Acronicta exilis: These caterpillars need wood or bark in order to go into pupation.
35 / 51
Cottonwood Dagger Caterpillar, Acronicta lepusculina: Cottonwood and other poplars, birch, alder and willow trees play host to this flashy caterpillar.
36 / 51
Harris's Three-spot Moth
37 / 51
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.
38 / 51
Sunflower Seedcopper Caterpillar, Stiria rugifrons: This caterpillar is unmistakable in shape, coloration, behavior and always appears in association with sunflowers.
39 / 51
Pine Sallow Moth
40 / 51
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.
41 / 51
Mustard Sallow Caterpillar, Pyreferra hesperidago: Waxy white with bands of lemon yellow, this caterpillar matures in May and in June.
42 / 51
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.
43 / 51
Sunflower Seedcopper Caterpillar, Stiria rugifrons: The texture and behavior of this caterpillar matches its sunflower host to perfection.
44 / 51
Mustard Sallow Moth
45 / 51
Hitched Arches Moth
46 / 51
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.
47 / 51
Convict Moth
48 / 51
Western Bean Moth
49 / 51
"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. 
50 / 51
Citrus Fruitpiercer Caterpillar, Gonodonta nutrix, stretched out: This caterpillar's prominent orange or salmon spots are highly variable.
51 / 51
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.

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.

Owlet Moth and Caterpillar Photography

Visit the Image Gallery for our favorite photographs from Owlet Caterpillars of Eastern North America, or click on one of the titles below to navigate straight to the listed image. 

This excerpt has been reprinted with permission from Owlet Caterpillars of Eastern North America by David L. Wagner, Dale F. Schweitzer, J. Bolling Sullivan & Richard C. Reardon, published by Princeton University Press, 2011. 

Need Help? Call 1-800-234-3368