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Photo#586467
Lophocampa maculata - Development Sequence and observations - Lophocampa maculata

Lophocampa maculata - Development Sequence and observations - Lophocampa maculata
Elkton, Douglas County, Oregon, USA
September 29, 2011
09-29-11: As I mentioned in yesterday's status: at 8:30 AM, one-spot was in walkabout, but not a frisky one. Considering subsequent events, I should add that all other cats were fairly animated right to the end of their walkabouts. What was notably not frisky about one-spot was its gait, somewhat wobbly and faltering, almost like it was a bit tipsy or completely tuckered out. I was therefore glad when it quickly nestled in after I flipped the maple leaves. I was hoping the cat would begin cocooning fairly soon, and checked on it every half hour.

About two hours later (4:00 PM), one-spot restarted its walkabout, continuing the walkabout until just before 6:00 PM, when it returned to the same spot it had nestled into earlier. The walkabout was again sluggish. One-spot looked somewhat disoriented. I was somewhat surprised it returned to its recent starting point.

I checked back at 6:50 PM. My find is on the left side of the montage. I figured, great, I can get another pupation sequence. To get a decent photo, I had to lift and turn the leaf. Even though I very carefully returned the leaf to its original position, the cat lost its footing, and nearly fell off. It was no longer within the footprint of its cocoon, rather it was at about a 90 degree angle across the footprint. It sat there, unmoving, for about 10 minutes.

I looked in again at 7:36 PM. One -spot had restarted building its cocoon over the old footprint, off-angle by about 110 degrees. I took another photo, and carefully placed the leaf back in the container. I checked in again at 7:51 PM. Very little progress had been made, and one-spot was just sitting idly. Usually, when building a cocoon, the cats were very diligent; nothing distracted them; their building was non-stop. Again, I carefully replaced one-spot, and again, it lost its footing, though not as severely as last time. I decided I had better leave it alone, or it would never complete its task.

Just before bed, 11:45 PM, I thought I'd give one-spot a last look. Since I wasn't planning on another photo, I only peeked under the leaf. In the almost 4 hours since I looked last, it had managed to complete perhaps 10% of its cocoon - it should have been done. I started wondering if a cat can turn into a moth without a fully enclosing cocoon - perhaps I could control the environment so it could make it anyway. Those are the thoughts I dozed off with.

This morning, however, one-spot surprised me. It had managed to complete its cocoon. In the photo, there are two cocoon footprints under the cocoon it was finally able to make - once I left it alone. I don't know when one-spot finished its task, but I'm ecstatic it did.

One-spot now resides in its own pupation container - a ½ gallon clear, plastic, wide-mouthed jar, just like its siblings. One-spot will now be referred to as CC7.

Since all cats have now pupated, this is my last daily status for this batch. Additional reports will be submitted when there's something to say, otherwise in May 2012 when, hopefully, they emerge as moths. Each surviving moth will be in a montage along with its pupa and last image as a cat.

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My, what a lot of work that was!
Such a comprehensive account. You must have taken copious notes all along.

You observed that the larvae preferred big leaves. I think the reason is that older leaves have more flavor, and possibly a stronger concentration of nutrients, than young leaves. This is true of culinary herbs. The outer (older) stalks of parsley are darker and stronger-flavored than the central (newly sprouted) ones.

The walkabout serves to disperse the pupae so that a predator that finds one won't necessarily find the rest of them. A free larva about to pupate goes far from the food plant. In a container, they can only go round and round and imagine (I guess) that they're traveling.

Caterpillars do stop eating before a molt. I haven't seen anyone say why, but maybe it's that slimming down makes it easier to get out of the old skin.

Butterfly caterpillars do a big poop before pupating. Good thing, better than having to go after they're enclosed.

 
Thanks for the information
Larger leaves being tastier and having more nutrients makes sense. After discovering their preference, I picked only the largest, healthiest leaves I could find.

I've noticed quite a few different kinds of caterpillars go on walkabout before pupating. Some walkabout more intensely than others, but each of the various walkabout caterpillars I've captured pupated within days. While going on walkabout does put distance between where the cat was eating and where it will pupate, I'm not certain if that migration is to necessarily get away from other caterpillars - Wooly Bears just recently completed their walkabouts and dozens were crossing paths all over the yard - they were everywhere - while two weeks earlier they were all so safely hidden you couldn't find them anywhere, either singly or in hoards. As for L maculata cats, I've never seen one in the wild, though I get plenty of adults at the lights each year. I read somewhere that L maculata cats are solitary, dispersing after hatching, and that's one reason they're not really considered pests - they don't hatch then drape a communal tent over tree branches and devour the tree. My guess is, perhaps walkabout includes both our thoughts . . . and other purposes, as well.

I like the idea of the cats slimming down before the molt to make it easier to get out of their old skins. They also seemed to be frass free when they molted. The ones that molted on the container walls usually left a small pile of frass and an empty head casing on the container bottom, just beneath where they molted.

Of course all my comments and speculations are those of a novice who was simply curious about what happens when a moth egg hatches. It's become quite an adventure, and provided I get a female adult to emerge, I'm looking forward to Maculata Cats 2.0 - The Next Generation.

This is wonderful, Phil.
Just read through it and watched the changes. May have to read through it all again. Outstanding!

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