Things to Look for While Strolling the Outdoor Loop at the Museum of Life and Science

Yellow-bellied sliders are frequently seen out basking in the sun in our wetlands. Occasionally, and typically in spring and early summer, a snapping turtle partakes in the catching of rays.

Getting some sun.

There are Colorado potato beetles and there are false potato beetles. Both eat plants in the nightshade (solanaceae) family, a group of plants of which both potato and tomato belong. This family includes many other species of plants including horsenettle or Carolina nettle (Solanum carolinense). We have much Carolina nettle here at the Museum which may explain why I saw a false potato beetle crossing the path last week. Perhaps the question, if there is  a question to be asked, should be why the beetle was walking and not flying. They have perfectly good wings. Why not fly?.

False potato beetle.

The false potato beetle may be confused with the Colorado potato beetle. Looking at the photo above, you’ll notice that false potato beetles have a brown stripe on the inside of each elytra, making one large brown stripe down the center of the beetle’s back. Colorado potato beetles do not have this brown stripe. Also, you may notice a wide black stripe on the side of the beetle. Looking even closer you may see a faint brown stripe in the center of that black stripe. In the Colorado potato beetle there will be a white or tan stripe in the center of the wide black stripe. Essentially, there are fewer stripes on the false potato beetle.

If you’ve been walking outdoors lately you may have noticed small hairy caterpillars crawling along the path, sidewalk, or road. There are two species which I’ve noticed the past few weeks. Banded tussock moth and sycamore tussock moth. I’ve seen the banded tussock moth caterpillars in various locations. The sycamore tussock moth larvae have only been encountered in the vicinity of sycamore trees. Why is that?

Banded tussock moth caterpillar on elm leaf.
Sycamore tussock moth caterpillar.

Banded tussock moth caterpillars eat a variety of tree leaves, from alder to willow. They’re likely to be seen anywhere there are trees. Sycamore tussock moth caterpillars eat sycamore, and apparently, only sycamore. Logically, you would be more likely to see a sycamore tussock moth caterpillar in the neighborhood of sycamore trees. By the way, sycamore tussock moth caterpillars vary from white (above) to yellow in color.

If you don’t know, or have forgotten, what a sycamore tree is, here’s a refresher. It’s the tree with white bark on the upper trunk and branches, soft seed balls that hang on the tree all winter, and in summer, it has maple-like leaves, which can be quite large.

White bark near top of tree.
Sycamore seed balls, throughout winter.
Large, maple-like leaves.

Locally, it’s hot outside. Even so, you owe yourself to get out and have a look around. There’s lots to see.

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