Our discovery this week is due to some photogenic wild sunflowers.

sunflower-1I was taking a few photographs, when...

sunflower-flying-wasp-18what is that tiny insect flying by?

sunflower-wasp-flying-0006There it is again. Can you spot it?

little-wasp-on-sunflower-13To give you scale, this is what it looks like on a sunflower petal (actually ray flower).

wasp-on-sunflower-petal-40Talk about tiny! It is a parasitic wasp (Pteromalidae).

Why are tiny wasps hovering around a sunflower? It is possible that they are parasites of insects that visit sunflowers. Many species are parasites of insect eggs. It is also possible the wasps are feeding on nectar, although I saw no evidence of feeding. They also could be males waiting for females to visit.

What do you think these tiny wasps are doing?

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 Our mystery seeds this week are hard to forget.

mystery-seeds-256-1They are shiny and roughly triangular.

mystery-seeds-256-23They are also fairly small (the white object is a grain of rice added for scale.)

Do you recognize what plant these seeds are from? If you choose to, please leave a comment with your ideas.

Mystery Seed answers and new Mystery Seeds are posted on Tuesdays.

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As our last post for National Moth Week, which is going on now, let's take a look at some caterpillars that turn into moths.

1. Family Saturnidae

Remember these large moths from our moth identification post I? As you might imagine, the caterpillars are also large when they are mature.

Take the captive-reared cecropia moth caterpillars in this video, for example.

They will form a cocoon and then eventually emerge as a cecropia moth.

Hyalophora_cecropia1(Public domain photograph of cecropia moth  by Tom Peterson, retrieved from Wikimedia.)

Zephyr-Eyed-Silkmoth-Caterpillar-4589Saturnid moth caterpillars can have various spiky projections, like these Zephyr Eyed Silkmoth larvae that look thorny (Automeris zephyria).

2. Family Sphingidae - called sphinx moths, hawk moths or hummingbird moths

Sphinx moth larvae or caterpillars are sometimes called hornworms.

white-lined-sphinx-caterpillarExamples include the white-lined sphinx caterpillar,

manduca-larva-largeand tobacco or tomato hornworm larvae.

hornworm-caterpillar-0051Hornworms are named for the spike-like projection at the rear end of the abdomen.

manduca-rustica-212Some species have a similar shape, but may lack the spike, like this rustic sphinx caterpillar.

3. Family Erebidae -Tussock and Tiger moths

hickoy-tussock-moth-caterpillarTussock moth caterpillars often have tufts of "hairs," like this hickory tussock moth caterpillar.

woolly bear caterpillarTiger moth caterpillars are also "hairy." The woolly bear caterpillar is a common example.

4. Family Noctuidae - the noctuids or owlet moths (Moth Identification II post)

Noctuid caterpillars are often mostly bare.

budworm-2This budworm larva has a few hairs, but they are sparse.

cabbage-looper-larva-leafCabbage looper caterpillars also have only a few sparse hairs.

Note:  many of the looper caterpillars belong to the family Geometridae (which means "earth measurer.")

There are many, many more fascinating caterpillars that turn into moths.

Have you seen any interesting caterpillars lately?

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