Every year we learn new caterpillars. This year, it's this neighbor moth caterpillar. Hard to imagine it of this soft, 2-inch critter, the neighbor moth caterpillar, yet it will overwinter in this form, then pupate in spring.
Resources to learn by
We use a number of books to find information like this. Gaps are common -- for instance, some species' listings may lack larval food plants or overwintering strategies. We often check several to piece together the whole story. The Audubon Society Guide to Eastern North American Butterflies has good life cycle info, usually including overwintering stage.
Another great resource is Brenda Dziedzic of Garden City, founder of the Southeast Michigan Butterfly Association. firstname.lastname@example.org. Her book, Learn About Butterflies in the Garden, is a marvelously illustrated one-stop resource. You can buy a copy online or from Brenda herself. She's acquired a mind-blowing amount of experience about butterflies including raising them, keeping the chrysalises and overwintering caterpillars overwinter, and she loves to share.
We had never seen a neighbor moth caterpillar until this year. Like many people, we want to have more butterflies. So we welcome them one species at a time, as we are doing with this new find, "the neighbor:"
- First we identify the species. In this case, Peterson's Guide to Eastern North American Caterpillars helped us identify it as neighbor moth, Haploa contigua. Its adult form is small, boldly patterned, white and black.
- Second, we learn its larval food (host plants; what its caterpillars eat). Neighbor eats many different plants, but probably prefers aster family.
- Third, we protect its habitat, including banning all pesticide use in the area and preserving the winter habitat.
So far we have done this for more than a dozen butterfly and moth species in our own yard. We hope to keep adding more all our lives.