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Leaf roller caterpillars

All these leaf rolling caterpillars have one thing in common, a dark, glossy first thoracic segment.

Bob identified the adult of the first one in this series as "Probably ? Agonopterix sp." This genus belongs to the family Elachistidae

All these caterpillars look very similar to the members of this family. Is it possible that they are also in this family? Could we move them to family if we can make sure of this?

Leaf-rolling larvae
Some of the larvae in these photos probably are Agonopterix spp. Unfortunately, there also are lots of spp. of leaf-rolling tortricid larvae in which the head and first thoracic segment are black or dark brown.

The best chance of getting one of these leaf-rolling larvae identified on BugGuide is to include as much biological information as possible, along with the photo of the larva itself. This can include a photo of the leaf roll, and especially, identity of the host plant. Date on which the larva is photographed (which is a standard part of a BugGuide submission) also can be helpful, because some spp. of leaf rollers are univoltine, with larvae occurring only during a fairly narrow window of time each year.

The most reliable way to ID a leaf-rolling microlep larva to family is to look at the setal pattern. At least for my eyesight, this requires observing the larva under a dissecting microscope. First of all, if there are only two L setae on thoracic segment 1 (the L setae are directly anterior to the spiracle), then the larva is probably something in the pyralid/crambid assemblage, whereas tortricids and gelechioids have three L setae on the first thoracic segment. To differentiate tortricids from gelechioids, the easiest character to see is the arrangement of the D2 setae on abdominal segment 9. If the D2s are on a common, wartlike middorsal pinaculum, the larva is a tortricid, whereas if the D2s are distinctly separate, the larva is gelechioid. Also on abdominal segment 9, leaf-rolling gelechioids have the SD1 setae "hairlike" (i.e., very narrow and of uniform length throughout) whereas tortricids have the SD1 setae "normal" (i.e., decidedly thicker at base than at apex, same as the other primary setae). It might require a bit of practice to recognize these characters, but they are more reliable than coloration and external appearance in identifying a leaf roller to family.

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