“In summer the empire of insects spreads.”
― Adam Zagajewski
Toward the end of spring and the beginning of summer, I find that the most interesting insects are to be found. While spring offers some really good forester caterpillars and their attractive moths, among other things, nature seems to me to save the best for last, it seems to me. From beetles to butterflies, moths and their caterpillars, from June on there are some fabulous finds out there.
I have to admit to being a caterpillar enthusiast, and am partial to the sphinx, dagger, slug and prominent caterpillars and then the butterfly cats as well. Last year the swallowtail butterflies were few and far between, but this year our three main species- black, spicebush and tiger- are clearly more numerous. If you know where to look, you can find them.
I like to turn over elm leaves and search for two really spectacular caterpillars. The first is the double-toothed prominent, whose projections along its back resemble those of a stegosaurus. Along with its striking coloration and patterns, this is a truly remarkable find for anyone who takes the time to look and see. The second one is the elm sphinx, sometimes called the four- horned sphinx. This caterpillar has both a brown and a green form, and has little ridges running along its back. It is a behemoth, as well, like many sphinx caterpillars- robust and heavy.
Long-horned beetles are out and about. Impressive because of their long antennae, these members of the Cerambycidae family of beetles can be impressive both in color and size. The larvae are round-headed borers, and are often plant specific as in the case of the pine sawyer. One of my favorites (but not because I love the larvae) is the elderberry borer. A pest of elderberries, the beetle is a brilliant metallic blue with orange bands on the elytra. This impressive beetle was featured on a postage stamp once upon a time, probably promoted by someone who did not have any elderberries in their garden.
Tussock moth caterpillars are in a class by themselves. Some here in Connecticut are a sight to behold, with the tussocks of hairs on their backs, long pencils front and rear (sometimes) and long setae along the body. The white- marked tussock moth caterpillar is a favorite among insect enthusiasts, resembling Bozo the clown in a way with its red head and wild hair. Found on many plants, both woody and herbaceous, these guys can be pests if enough of them are on the same plant. Blueberries are a favorite, but they can appear on almost anything. The yellow- based tussock is especially interesting because the final instar has hairs that appear frosted. Some of the tussock moths have pretty markings, the hickory tussock moth and banded, for example, and many are attracted to lights.
Walking sticks and mantids can be found resting on vegetation during the summer. Right now, walking sticks are small- one inch to two inches, and they develop slowly. Mantids develop slowly as well, and are especially found on goldenrods as the season progresses, as insect life abounds on these plants.
Other insects of note are the hoppers, of which the tree hoppers are especially interesting. The buffalo tree hopper is easy to identify- look at its head to see how it got its common name- and many tree hoppers have interesting projections on their pronotums. Assassin bugs can be found along with their insect prey on the milkweeds, which are just starting to bloom now. The common milkweeds abound with the color of butterflies and milkweed beetles, the activity of bees, and the scent of the flowers themselves.
Get out now and discover the fascinating world of insects. You may need only venture as far as your own backyard.
Pamm Cooper All photos copyright 2016 Pamm Cooper