I was introduced to new-to-me terminology this past week: “web of life partners”. I’ve written about the role of plants in the “food chain” a phrase pretty much interchangeable with the term “web of life”. I’ve always given thought to the interactions between various species…partnerships, so to speak. But finding a database under development that contains web of life partners listings (Taxapad) really made it all hit home.
I ran across this database while researching what I saw in a single photograph that I would have missed, had it not been for the ability to enlarge photos on a computer screen.
The photo was of a Selenisa sueroides (Pale-edged Selenisa Moth) caterpillar. While cropping it, I noticed a ring of pale green “pearls” around its neck. Was the caterpillar making a fashion statement? More likely it has potential parasitic wasps or similar species making use of its body as a host for their young. I did some research and began to monitor the progress of this natural phenomenon.
This description sums up the lifecycle in graphic detail:
So, back to my caterpillar. Seems Selenisa (I’ll call her by her first name) is indicated as a hostfor several parasitic wasps as listed in the Taxapad database:
- Ichneumon Wasp – Gambrus ultimus (2 listings in Bugguide both are located in the Northeast)
- Chalcid Wasp – Brachymeria ovata, (2 listings in Bugguide located in California).
- Chalcid Wasp – Brachymeria flavipes (I couldn’t find this species in the Bugguide listings)
- Chalcid Wasp – Euplectrus comstockii (1 listing in Bugguide, located in Missouri)
The list seems a little skimpy and the locations are all off, so I checked over at the Moth Photographers Group Website and they have Braconid Wasps listed as well.
Maybe my little find will add some information to Bugguide and/or the Taxapad database…that is if I can witness the hatching of my wasps. I love this “Citizen Scientist” stuff. I check faithfully each day. I suppose that the Shyleaf (Aeschynomene americana), a plant native to Florida could also be added as a web of life partner given that it is one of the larval hosts for the Selenisa Caterpillar.
This is not my first encounter with parasitic wasp behavior. Another time I caught a photo of some species of ichneumon wasp zeroing in on the caterpillar of the Barred Yellow Butterfly (Eurema daira). Quite honestly, I never would have spotted the caterpillar had it not been for the wasp flying in. Oddly, this also was on Shyleaf (A. americana). Must be my lucky plant.
About a year ago, I also found a caterpillar laying “eggs”, but since caterpillars aren’t the stage that is suppose to lay eggs, it was a little weird. That’s when I learned that they play a major roll in the web of life supporting larvae for other insects.
Shortly thereafter I found an unidentified caterpillar covered with fuzz. Again, I didn’t know at the time, but it was at the cocoon stage of a parasite. Dang I wish I had collected those to see the final results. At any rate, I’m now collecting and learning about this facet of nature and I’m grateful to my caterpillar friends for increasing my knowledge and I am hopeful to see the rewards of my latest capture.
Rest in peace Selenisa, you gave your all. Perhaps a more accurate title for this article would have been “Death before Moth”.
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