A Caterpillar and a Salamander

Walking down the boardwalk, I noticed a dozen or so pieces of frass ahead of me on the boards. There was a branch of sweet gum tree overhanging the boardwalk directly above the frass. Several leaves had been chewed to mere skeletons. A search through the leaves revealed a large green caterpillar with red spots along its sides. It was a luna moth caterpillar and it was munching away on the leaves of the tree.

Luna moth caterpillar munching on sweet gum leaf.

I see lots of luna moth adults here at the museum, or should I say, I see lots of luna moth wings. Bats must take a toll on the adult moths because I find many more dismembered wings than I do live moths, though I occasionally do see the adults flying around during the daylight hours.

Both larvae and adult luna moths are attractive creatures. The adults especially are sure to inspire most who see them, even those with an ingrained dislike for insects.

Adult male luna moth (Photo: Richard Stickney).

Luna moth caterpillars are said to consume the leaves of many different trees but birch, black gum, hickory, pecan, sweetgum, and walnut are listed among their “favorites.”

A new salamander has been observed at the museum.

There’s a group of five species of salamanders in Virginia and the Carolinas that were once thought to be geographic variations of the same species. They’re all slimy salamanders which are difficult to distinguish from one another except by geographic location, or range.

They hunt small invertebrates by night and spend the day tucked in under the leaf litter, logs, or stones. The one pictured must have gotten caught out in the open by some predator and quickly dropped after having had a taste of the salamander’s slimy skin secretions (note the damage to its left leg and missing tail tip).

White-spotted slimy salamander (Photo: Ranger Martha).

Identified by range, this is a white-spotted slimy salamander (Plethodon cylindraceous). This is only the third confirmed species of salamander seen on the museum grounds. The others are southern two-lined salamander (Eurycea cirrigera) and marbled salamander (Ambystoma opacum). If you’ve seen a salamander here at the museum and have a picture of it, let me know and I’ll add it to the list.

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