First, daylight savings time ends leaving it dark in the late afternoon. In the time it takes you to say Catoptrichus frankenhauseri three times quickly, the snowflakes are flying again. Then there’s the winter driving conditions. The worst part of it all (from an entomologist’s perspective) is there simply aren’t as many insects to find during the Wisconsin winter. [Although, I can assure you there are still insects to find if you know where to look. . .Before you know it, the conditions will be just right to look for snow scorpionflies, winter stoneflies, snow fleas and others, but I’ll save that for another time.]
For those that aren’t daydreaming about collecting insects off the frozen tundra, there’s nothing better to get your mind off the flurries outside than thinking about some cool insect cases from this past year (bonus: there’s even green leaves in the images). One of the prettiest insects that popped up in the lab this summer was the caterpillar of the Funerary Dagger Moth (Acronicta funeralis). This curious critter is sometimes called a “paddle caterpillar” due to the paddle-like structures that dangle from the jet-black and yellow-spotted body. Not only is this one of the neatest looking and most distinctive caterpillars out there, but it also has the distinction of gracing the cover of David Wagner’s “Owlet Caterpillars of Eastern North America”, one of the best caterpillar guides available.
It’s not a very common species, but has been documented from much of the eastern US. The caterpillars feed on maples and a number of other trees and shrubs.