I don’t know what made me look up, pure curiosity I suspect. As I craned my neck upward, a large green caterpillar caught my eye. It was about twelve feet up on the underside of a small twig of an elm tree.
It was the end of the day, closing time, and I was walking the boardwalk in Explore the Wild for the final time. Although I couldn’t put a name on it, I immediately recognized the caterpillar. I’d seen them here before, in this same elm tree.
It was obviously a hornworm, a sphinx moth caterpillar. It had the characteristic “horn” near the tip of its abdomen, though it was a spiked horn. But it also had four spiked horns on the thorax, near the head, and a row of spikes running down its back. All the information for naming the caterpillar was in front of me. But I still had to look it up in a reference to jog my memory.
It didn’t take long to find the caterpillar. It was a four-horned sphinx (Ceratomia amyntor) or elm sphinx moth caterpillar. Of course, what else could it be.
I last photo’d one of these large insects here at the museum in July of 2012, as mentioned, on this same elm tree (how many times had I walked under this tree in the last five years and not seen one of these caterpillars?). Elm sphinx caterpillars also feed on birch and basswood. In the east, their range extends from Canada to Florida and Texas.
Look up, look down, look around, you never know what you’ll find.