Daggers, Spiders, and A Leaf

Although it’s in the upper eighties as I write this, it’s fall, and fall things are happening. Caterpillars are crawling off to form cocoons in which to pupate over winter, orb weavers are constructing webs seemingly everywhere you turn, and leaves are morphing to shades that dazzle the eye.

The last time I saw an American dagger moth caterpillar was in September of 2016 here at the Museum. I saw three daggers just this week (10/10/17). The dagger moths are named for characteristics found on the wings of adult moths (black lines on wings).

When I first saw this species I thought it a tussock moth caterpillar. Tussock moth larvae are typically very hairy and have long tufts of hair (setae) near the head and tip of their abdomens. The caterpillars of the various dagger moths range from naked to very hairy. I consider this particular individual very hairy, which led me to think it was a tussock moth when initially encountered.

They’re large caterpillars growing to a little over two inches in length. I’ve been told the hairs may cause itching if they contact your skin. Although I picked up the caterpillar in the photos to move out of harm’s way, I did not feel the itch myself. I don’t recommend picking up one of these dagger caterpillars, simply relaying my own experience.

American dagger moth caterpillar crawling across a retaining wall.
Looking for a way down.

If you’ve been walking along a wooded path, a sidewalk in town, or in your own back yard, you’ve probably seen a few spider webs. It seems every fall, spiders and their webs pop up as if out of nowhere. They’ve been there all along, although smaller and less visible. The fall’s dew and low angle of the sun reflecting off the shiny silk illuminate the webs.

Morning dew collects on web.
Early morning sun reflects off web’s silk threads.
An orb weaver. This may be Neoscona crucifera.
Another orb weaver.
Marbled orb weaver repairing web.
Marbled orb weaver setting anchor thread.

Lack of rain causes tree leaves to dry up and fall earlier than we’d like them too, before turning brilliant shades of red, yellow, and orange. It’s been very dry the last few months. But, there’s still color to be seen.

The parting shot is of a sassafras leaf. The orange color produced by the leaves is hard to beat. You can still see a bit of green on the right side of this leaf, but as you move across to the left it’s pure orange.

Sassafras leaf.

Enjoy the fall.

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