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Wow, talk about timing. Shortly after I posted my Bug of the Week yesterday suggesting white-lined sphinx moth caterpillars (Hyles lineata) might be coming soon (see after second ladybug in that post), I got a call that masses of caterpillars are crossing Maricopa Road just South of Riggs Road, near Maricopa, Arizona. I drove right down. I probably should have taken the video camera instead of my still camera, because it doesn’t do justice to how fast these caterpillars were moving.

Unlike the pictures I linked to yesterday, these are mostly yellow and black caterpillars with a greenish head. As with many sphinx moths, the caterpillars have a spike at the tail.

whiteline caterpillar

The yellow marks below are where caterpillars didn’t make it across the road. I hope you can make out the yellow squiggles of all the caterpillars that are trying.

caterpillars in road

White-lined sphinx moth caterpillars vary considerably in color. This one was pale green rather than bright yellow.

small whiteline caterpillar

Aren’t these beauties?

caterpillar close upwhiteline caterpillar

Check the More About post for an update on white-lined sphinx moths.
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    Books About Caterpillars

If all these recent posts about caterpillars have made you interested in butterflies and moths, here are some books where you can learn more.

Books about caterpillars/butterflies for the youngest bug enthusiasts (Toddler):

The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle
Summary: The board book version of this story is a perennial favorite. The story line is fun, the illustrations are colorful and the holes in the pages are magnets for little fingers. We made stick puppet characters and performed the story again and again.


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In depth review: As a scientist, I do have to point out one minor misuse of a term. In the end of the book (do I need to say spoiler alert here?) the caterpillar turns into a cocoon and then into a beautiful butterfly. Technically, however, a butterfly comes from chrysalis (or chrysalid), not a cocoon. Cocoons are the silken bags that moth caterpillars form around themselves prior to pupating. I see it as just a sloppy use of a word with a precise scientific meaning.

Eric Carle has been very open about admitting his mistake, although he does talk about an obscure butterfly that actually makes a cocoon. See http://www.eric-carle.com/q-cocoon.html for his response. To be fair, this book is a work of fiction. Caterpillars don’t really eat cherry pie or sausages either. That is part of what makes it so fun. So, go ahead and pick up a copy. You can read it as is, substitute chrysalis or substitute the word pupa if you don’t want to say chrysalis.

Caterpillar’s Wish by Mary Murphy is another colorful picture book about a caterpillar that turns into a butterfly. It is a delightful story about three friends. Bee and Ladybug can fly, but Caterpillar can’t. Caterpillar feels left out until he transforms into a butterfly.


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In depth: Once again the author has chosen to call the transitional stage a cocoon. In this case it may be because cocoon is a smaller word, more appropriate for toddlers? (Perhaps authors of children’s books should use the more generic word “pupa.” It is short, easy to say and always correct, regardless of which insect is the subject.)

Inch by Inch by Leo Lionni is an adorable tale of an inchworm that escapes from some hungry birds in a clever way. This book could also be useful as an introduction to measuring.


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Waiting for Wings by Lois Ehlert is bright, bold and beautifully done. It traces the life cycle of a butterfly very simply, and then has a bit more in depth information about butterflies and flowers at the end. There’s even a page of information about butterfly gardening.

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Ten Little Caterpillars
by Bill Martin Jr. and illustrated by Lois Ehlert

From Caterpillar to Butterfly by Deborah Heiligman, and illustrated by Bari Weissman, is an account of a classroom caterpillar that undergoes metamorphosis into a beautiful butterfly.

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Caterpillarology
by Michael Elsohn Ross is for children who are interested in science and doing science experiments. This book (and the others in the “-ology” series) are chock full of great information and fun activities. Whereas many children’s books repeat the same information over and over, these books are truly unique and interesting. “Chosen by Science Books and Films as one of the Best Books for Children.” Unfortunately, they are often out of print and may be hard to find.

See our growing list of children's books about moths and butterflies at Science Books for Kids.

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We were able to travel to Prescott, Arizona last weekend. Not only was it cool, but we got some rain in the night. Early the next morning the plants and insects both were wet. We saw a lot of interesting wildlife, and I actually overwhelmed my poor camera at one point.

ladybug with raindrop

This is a native ladybug or lady beetle known as the convergent lady beetle, because of the white lines on the thorax that slant towards the center (although I guess from another point of view it could be the divergent lady beetle). It carried a rain drop for quite a ways.

harmonia lady beetle

On the same plant, a few branches away, was a larger lady beetle with a rough "M" on it's thorax. This is the introduced multicolored Asian lady beetle. The Asian lady beetle is the one that comes into houses in the fall to spend the winter indoors. The convergent lady beetles also cluster together, but usually choose outdoor locations. This beetle had smaller droplets of water.

In the same location, we also saw some white-lined sphinx moths flitting from flower to flower, like insect hummingbirds. I hope to get some pictures of their large yellow or green and black-striped caterpillars which are probably feeding on desert weeds about this time of year. If you scroll down the page at Caterpillars of Southeastern Arizona you will see a picture of one. Click on the word adult for a photo of the moth.

When they have finished eating and are looking for a place to pupate in the soil, these caterpillars can migrate in large numbers. To people who don't know what they are or haven't seen them before, it can be quite alarming. As with many insects. however, it doesn't take them long to find a good place to dig into the soil and they will disappear.

Books for more information on ladybugs:

For young children try “Are You a Ladybug?” Like the rest of this series, the book compares humans and ladybugs in an informative and gently humorous way.

Although the title of this First Discovery Book is “The Ladybug and Other Insects,” it really is mostly about ladybugs. Some of the pages are clear with illustrations on them. When flipped they show things like the underside of the ladybug. These books in this series are great fun, and my son still enjoys flipping through them even though he is well past the targeted age range.

This is a newer version of the same book in paperback.

“Face to Face With the Ladybug” is a bit more detailed and is for the older child.

Oh, I wish I had the time to take some video of one of our plants this morning. Our desert spoon is flowering and it is alive with bees. Honey bees, bumble bees, carpenter bees, digger bees, sweat bees, big bees, tiny bees, billions and billions of bees. Well, probably not that many, but it seemed that way. It was like a swarm.

The desert spoon plant sends up a huge flower stalk covered with blooms. This year there were 5 stalks. You can't see them all here.

desert spoon

Each stalk was covered with hundreds of bees. Each of those specks was a fast-moving insect.

bees
Of course you know that the bees were gathering pollen, the yellowish powder produced by the flower, and nectar, the sweet liquid reward for picking up the pollen. The honey bees pack the pollen into the specially shaped baskets on their hind legs. Check out the load this honey bee has gathered. Honey bees were the most numerous bees this morning.

honey bee

I was able to get very close to these insects without any danger. They were intent on gathering food, and that is it.

The biggest bees I saw were the black carpenter bees, but they seemed intimidated by the other bees and quickly flew away. They may have also been sizing up the stalks as future home sites. Carpenter bees build their nests in agave and desert spoon flower stalks.

The second biggest bees were yellow and black bumble bees. They stay near the top of the stalks, so I couldn’t get a close up.

bumble bee

The smallest bees were some tiny sweat bees. They were numerous, but not as noticeable because of their pencil-lead size.

sweat bee

Mixed in were a few other sweat bees and digger bees. Here are two examples.

green beeStripe bee

Finally, not all the creatures I saw this morning were working hard to gather pollen and nectar. This jumping spider was taking advantage of the bounty of bees to catch breakfast. It was behaving in an odd manner, jumping down and hanging upside down with its legs drawn in. In that position it looked all the world like a flying bee. Very Cool!!

spider

For more information about bees, check out the "Africanized Honey Bees on the Move" website under the blogroll in the sidebar.

Also, try out growing list of children's books about honey bees at Science Books for Kids.

honey-bee-books-for-children