09 August 2009

A Sunday Walk in the Park

Our friends Mike and Ben came to visit this weekend, and we spent Sunday morning at Potato Creek State Park.

Along the trails, Lindsay found a small white and black-striped caterpillar with long, white hairs. The caterpillar was crawling on Canadian Clearweed (Pilea pumila). As you can see, Ben was excited to see this little creature.

I believe that this is a Hickory Tussock Moth caterpillar (Lophocampa caryae), but I don't see the long tufts of black hairs that are commonly found on this species. Hickory Tussock Moths feed on a variety of tree species, including hickory and pecan (Carya spp.), walnut (Juglans spp.), American Hornbeam (Carpinus caroliniana), ash (Fraxinus spp.), elm (Ulmus spp.), oak (Quercus spp.), and willow (Salix spp.). A rash can sometimes form on people who touch this caterpillar, and it has also been said to inflict a sting.

A bit later, Lindsay saw an Eastern Box Turtle (Terrapene carolina) with a beautifully patterned shell scurrying across the trail. The Eastern Box Turtle is one of only two turtle species in Indiana that spends most of its life outside of the water; the other is the Ornate Box Turtle (Terrapene ornata). Amazingly, there are records indicating that Eastern Box Turtles can live up to 120 years old! While this species is not uncommon, studies show that their numbers are decreasing as a result of habitat destruction and collecting.

Near the end of our walk, I spotted a large orange and black butterfly, and was able to get a few photos before it flew off. I think this is a Great Spangled Fritillary (Speyeria cybele), a common species of woodlands and meadows. Great Spangled Fritillary caterpillars overwinter, feed on violets (Viola spp.), and develop into an adult butterfly the following summer. They have been found alive until late September, making them a long-lived butterfly species.

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