Black caterpillar with yellow-orange stripes
When Sam caught this one in the yard on June 13, 2010, I thought it was going to be an easy ID. Pretty good-sized caterpillar, distinctive-looking striping; should be a piece of cake, right?
But, it turns out to be not so easy. I went all through Caterpillars of Eastern North America, searched BugGuide, posted it on BugGuide for ID, did Google searches on variations of “black caterpillar yellow orange stripes”, and even tried dropping the actual picture into the Google Reverse Image Search to find “similar” photographs. Nothing. The pictures have been sitting on BugGuide since early October 2011, and nobody has even made so much as a guess yet, so it’s obviously a lot harder than I thought.
The closest I was able to find weren’t all that close: the Orange Striped Oakworm has about the right coloration, but is way too big, not hairy enough, and has a bunch of fleshy protuberances on its back. Some of the caterpillars of the moth genus Datana are hairy enough and similarly-striped, but they have much more colorful heads and necks and have a characteristic way of arching their backs that this one didn’t do.
Unfortunately, I didn’t get all that many good pictures, because Sam was playing with it at the time, and neither the little girl nor the caterpillar were too keen on holding still for me. In retrospect, I should have tried raising it up to adulthood to see what it turned into. Oh well, too late now. Maybe one of these days, we will find another one and be able to try again.
In the meantime, does anyone recognize it?
 The google reverse image search is a neat idea, but in this case it was more amusing than helpful. For one thing, the pictures “similar” to my caterpillar turned out to be mostly of women’s eyelashes, like this:
Now really, Google. Is that a nice thing to say about their eyelashes? They probably wouldn’t appreciate being considered “similar” to that fish head, either.
 In most browsers you can open two browser windows, with google image search open in one of them, and just drag and drop images from the other window into the search box. Google will then try to find not just exact copies of the image, but also images that are similar according to whatever arcane criteria the Google engineers have cooked up. I first heard about Google’s “reverse image search” when Alex Wild posted about it in June. Where it is really useful, is in finding out whether other sites are using one’s pictures. This is really important for people like Alex, who are professionals and want to make sure that their pictures aren’t being used without payment, but even for a hobbyist like me it is amusing to see which of my photos get picked up and circulated around the Internet. Some of my hottest pictures for being copied appear to be the pseudoscorpion (57 hits):
and the male wood tick (130 hits):