(My apologies if  you are not interested in receiving field notes or the newsletter, just drop me a note and I'll take you off the list. On the other hand if you would like to use any of the images in a classroom just let me know and I'll get larger images to you free of charge.)

Ever seen one of these guys before?

I know they look like yarn remnants, but they are actually the caterpillars of the Milkweed Tussock Moth. Most people know that milkweed is the host plant for the caterpillars of Monarch butterflies, the only food that the caterpillars eat, but it's also the host plant for a lot of other insects too, including these moths and some really colorful leaf hoppers. The Milkweed Tussock Moth caterpillars are communal feeders, they feed in groups of up to 50 and can quickly wipe out an entire milkweed plant. When I photographed these there were several milkweed plants in the area that were nothing but the spines of the leaves and the plant stem, every other last inch of the plants had been eaten.

Right now the Monarch adults are quite visible. Many of them are feasting on goldenrod flowers, the last big blooms of the year. In a couple weeks they will be well on their migration to Mexico. Below are some photos from the life cycle of the Monarch. Notice how the both the Monarch caterpillar and the
Milkweed Tussock Moth caterpillar have a similar color scheme of stripes and black, yellow, white colors? They both incorporate a toxin in their bodies from the milkweed that they eat, and that toxin makes them poisonous to predators. They "advertise" that poison to the predators through their coloration, so they use the same color scheme because they are sending the same message.