I saw a caterpillar last week (there are many caterpillars moving about at this time of year) that I hadn’t seen here at the Museum in two years time. At first, I was stumped, couldn’t figure out just what this caterpillar was. I searched through Caterpillars of Eastern North America several times, looking at every one of the 593 photographs of caterpillars in the book each time, and still came up empty.
Recalling that caterpillars of some species can be variable and don’t always look exactly like their photographs, I eventually came upon a photo of my caterpillar (which I had passed several times previously while searching through the book). I remember having trouble identifying this caterpillar the last time I encountered it here at the Museum. It was an eastern Panthea caterpillar, also called a tufted white pine caterpillar.
I happened upon this same species in 2013 in nearly the same location, near the Sailboat Pond in Catch the Wind, although a week or so earlier than last time.
Curiously, this panthea had two ants shadowing it. Were they thinking ahead, maybe this caterpillar will be stepped on and therefore become victuals? Were the ants going to take it alive? Or did the caterpillar have some residual sap on its body that the ants wanted?
Every so often one of the ants would approach the caterpillar and give what appeared to be a bite, or perhaps they were simply “smelling” the creature. I had to leave the scene before a resolution was had. I hope it worked out well for everyone involved.