Toadflax Brocade Caterpillar

2017 September 21

On September 20, 2017, I was sitting on a bench in front of the Houghton County courthouse[1] waiting for Sandy to join me for lunch, when this rather brightly colored caterpillar came charging right for me across the sidewalk. The only camera I had handy was my cell phone, but like they say, “a cheap camera that you have with you beats an expensive camera at home sitting on the table”, so here we go. When I picked it up, it immediately curled up in the palm of my hand, giving a fairly good view of its sides:


At first, I thought it was a sawfly larva, because the Introduced Pine Sawfly that I have photographed previously looks kind of similar. But, on looking closer, I saw that it did not have a sawfly-like head, and it had the normal number of legs for a moth or butterfly caterpillar.



So, once I got home, I went straight to my copy of “Caterpillars of Eastern North America”, and leafing thorugh it, quickly found what I’m pretty sure is an exact match: the Toadflax Brocade, Calophasia lunula. This is a non-native species, but not exactly invasive. The Canadians imported it to help control an invasive weed known as Butter-and-Eggs, a moderately close relative of snapdragons. I don’t recall seeing this plant around much, and the dominant plants near where I found the caterpillar were normal lawn-plants, and a small flower bed that didn’t seem to include anything snapdragon-like. So who knows what it might have been eating?

Of course, this one most likely wasn’t eating anything any more, since it is getting late in the year and these caterpillars overwinter underground as pupae. I most likely only found it because it was looking for a good pupation spot.

So, even though they aren’t native, they aren’t a pest either. At least as long as they stick to eating the intended plant.

[1] I was at the courthouse because I was serving as a juror. I’ve been called in for jury duty pretty much every year for the last five or six years, but in the past I never got as far as being picked for a jury. The case would either be settled at the last minute before the trial, or I just wasn’t one of the 6-12 picked out of a pool of 70 or so. But this time, I was selected to serve for a case that ran for two days. They allowed us out of the jury box for lunch for about an hour and a half, which gave time for Sandy to bring me lunch so we could eat together on the actually rather pleasant courthouse grounds.

As far as the actual case: Overall, I was not impressed with either attorney. The defense attorney completely lived up to the sleazy reputation of lawyers, to the point that he was practically a caricature. Everything that you have ever heard about defense attorneys doing everything in their power to assassinate the character of crime victims, is unfortunately completely true. Over 90% of his time was spent on character assassination. And the prosecuting attorney appeared to be either incompetent, or uninterested. I was particularly unhappy about the fact that the defendant straight up admitted to (in fact, I’d go so far as to say “bragged about”) behavior that I’m pretty sure was *a* crime. But, there wasn’t quite enough evidence to go beyond “reasonable doubt” that he committed the single *very specific, and practically impossible to prove* crime that was the only charge that the prosecutor brought against him. Even though, from our conversation with the judge after the trial was over, it appears there were other related crimes that he could have been charged with that not only would have been easier to prove, but that he practically confessed to. But, our only choice was guilty/not guilty of that very specific crime that was the only actual charge brought up officially. I think, in the next election, we need to find a new prosecutor.

The judge was fine, though. And I understand that once you’ve served on a jury, they move on to other people for a while, so maybe now I’ll stop getting a jury summons every year.

3 Responses
  1. October 3, 2017

    Beautiful photos! I wonder what it is that makes caterpillars home in on certain plants. Taste, perhaps?

    As for jury duty, I get called but it’s a waste of time. I always get kicked off in the selection process without trying to be.

  2. October 3, 2017

    In most cases where the caterpillars are very fussy about their diet, it is their parents that pick out the plants. I expect that they mostly find the plants by smell, because their antennae are very sensitive sniffers. I’ve taken to thinking of a moth’s antennae as being essentially the sort of thing you would get if you took, say, a dog’s nasal passages, and pulled them inside out so that the entire sensory surface was exposed to the air. And now I have this image of a dog with big, moth-like antennae sticking out where his nostrils used to be . . .

    If the trial I was in for was typical of what you get in a small-town court, the odds of actually being on the jury were fairly high. There were surprisingly few people kicked off the jury by the lawyers. I think they dismissed no more than maybe 8 people total, and some of them were for obvious cause (like the guy who, after hearing the witness list, said that he knew one of the witnesses personally, and that “he wouldn’t believe a word that SOB said”. Interestingly, the defense lawyer then never actually called that witness).

  3. October 4, 2017

    The caterpillars must have a very narrow matched-filter detection algorithm running.

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