Some bugs from my mother’s garden

Mom found some caterpillars munching on flowers in her back yard today. At first I thought they might be larvae of the moth Manduca quinquemaculata, AKA the “five-spotted hawkmoth” the AKA the “Tomato Hornworm”:

However my mother said she had looked those up and that these caterpillars were different. After looking them up myself I agree they do look a little different, but not much. I’ll be tagging my friend Don—a lepidopterist—to see what he thinks they might be (perhaps a closely related species?).

There were a number of individuals ranging in size and coloration. There were these two individuals that were about 1.5 to 2 inches long (fingers for scale):

20190427_183456-1

Here is a close up of one of the smaller larva. Note the shed skin on the stem below and to the rear of the caterpillar.

catter_crop

Then there were these two larger larvae (2.5 inches or so). Note the slight difference in coloration between the two:

20190427_183412-1

Then there was the beefiest cater-critter of them all. About 3 inches in length and rather radically different in coloration. Different species or do they change coloration as they molt? Again I’ll be deferring to my freind Don on this one.

20190427_183332-1

My mother is going to attempt to rear them to adulthood, so perhaps I will have an update with some pictures of the adults in future.

Update: My friend Don got back to me and said the following (with a caution that these are not the group of moths in which he specializes:

“Looks like a white-lined sphinx moth larva. Hyles lineata. They feed on a variety of plants, and with this year’s rain should be all over. I’ve seen the larvae by the thousands at places like Anza Borrego State Park. The adults come to blacklights in most places around here.”

Looking at pictures of H. lineata this appears to my non-person eyes to be correct;

Advertisements

What I have been up to lately

I have been a bit neglectful of my blog of late and I feel I owe my readers (who are not Facebook friends, and thus know already), an explanation. In part  it has been due to my usual procrastination but it has also been due to a change in career. For over twenty five years I have been in the small press printing industry (“quick printing” of letterheads, business cards etc.), however this business has taken a turn towards extinction so I have been looking for some sort of escape hatch into something else. Something preferably somewhat more in line with my interests in natural history.cdfa_logo_v_300

As a result of my search I recently lucked into a job with the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) as an “Agricultural Aide”, or more descriptively an insect trapper.

troy_in_cdfa_uniform

Yours truly in my CDFA uniform.

Basically I catch flies for a living now.

The initial job is temporary (with a one year duration) but I hope to maneuver myself into a permanent position, with a bit higher pay and additional benefits.

Time will tell whether I will be successful in this endeavor. In the meantime this new job has at least broken the shackles that bound me to a printing press and given me something different to add to my resume if a future employment search becomes necessary.

Before, in my last printing job, I was mostly working part time. Now with the state I work four ten hour days (Mon.-Thurs.) and I feel every minute of it. Basically I have been coming home, eating dinner and falling asleep. This leaves less time and energy for blogging. Though hopefully I will start to adapt and get some of the projects I have been working on finished and published. In the meantime here is a quick pictorial view of my day to day life in the CDFA.

I drive a large truck with a State seal on the door around a particular part of Southern California…

truck

…servicing two different types of fly traps typically hung in various types of fruit trees. The McPhail (the interesting old fashioned glass type, baited with yeast pellets)…

mcphail

…and plastic, two part, Multilure traps (baited with a pheromone soaked sponge, the green thing inside).

mltOnce a week I visit every trap (30 or so a day), replace the bait when needed (every week for the McPhails and every six weeks for the MLTs) and gather up any Mediterranean Fruit Flies (Ceratitis capitata) that I might find in the traps.

mediterranean_fruit_fly17

Image source, The University of Florida website.

Sometimes there are only a few and sometimes there are literally hundreds in a trap. Further, they are often not alone in the traps. There are frequently a variety of other species of flies as well as lace wings, bees, wasps and moths. More so in the McPhail traps (which are less species specific) but even in the MLTs.

picking_flies

Most, if not all, of these Med Flies are sterile files released by the CDFA as a biological control. However some might be wild flies and that is what I am really looking for, though I don’t make that determination. I simply gather the captured flies up and place them in vials of alcohol:

medflys

They are then turned over to someone else who goes through them looking for wild specimens (sterile flies are marked with ultraviolet dye prior to release); the presence of which might indicate a new infestation that would require further action on the part of the CDFA.

So that is basically what I have been up to as of late and which has been partly responsible for my lack of blogging. Fear not however, I have not given up the struggle against ignorance and unreason. I may just be a bit slower than usual at it.

mad_troy

Yours truly on the hunt.