Although photographs of beetles dominate this site (they are my true love, after all), I am nevertheless an agricultural entomologist by day and, as such, find occasion to post photos of the insects I encounter in my area of expertise—soybean. I think by and large those soybean insects—especially the caterpillars—don’t generate as much interest as the beetles that I feature. I guess this is understandable—caterpillars of the agricultural pest variety seem generally unable to compete with the visual and behavioral charisma exhibited by jewel beetles, tiger beetles, tortoise beetles, etc. Here, however, is an example of a soybean caterpillar that is as beautiful as any beetle you will find—the larva of the silver-spotted skipper, Epargyreus clarus (Lepidoptera: Hesperiidae). Not only are the colors to die for, but that comically big head makes for a truly laughable frontal portrait!
This particular individual was found last September in a soybean field near Baton Rouge, Louisiana (amazingly, this is the first insect I have featured from Louisiana). Silver-spotted skippers feed on a wide variety of plants in the family Fabaceae (of which soybean is a member), but their occurrence on soybean rarely reaches levels that cause any economic impact. Normally the caterpillars hide during the day in a silken nest constructed by folding over a leaflet or tying adjacent leaflets together, emerging only at night to feed.
I suppose the orange spots on the head are intended to serve as false eye spots—for some reason the larger the eyes the more a potential predator seems to take pause before deciding to eat something. The actual eyes can be seen along the outer edge of the orange spot as a row of simple ocelli—incapable of forming sharp images and serving as little more than light and motion detectors. I can’t even begin to speculate on the function of the curious asperate/rugose texture of the head!
Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2014