Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Another bit of strange

with 18 comments

Insect Camouflaged with Twigs 6767

If you’re having trouble telling what’s going on here, that’s good. Take another look and see if you can figure anything out before you continue.

When I was photographing galls on an oak tree, as you saw last time, a tiny clump of debris on the trunk of the tree caught my eye. To my surprise, I could see that the clump occasionally moved slightly higher on the tree. When I looked more closely through my macro lens to see that details that I couldn’t make out with my eyes, I noticed the head of a tiny insect occasionally poking out in front; you can see it at the top of the clump in this photograph. As for those little bits and pieces of dry vegetation, I had to conclude that the insect covered itself with them in a great act of camouflage.

Not knowing what this creature is, I turned to Val Bugh, who identified it as the larva—which in this case is to say caterpillar—of a bagworm moth. The insect family in which entomologists have classified bagworms is Psychidae, and the “bag” of the common name refers to the set of small items the insects collect around themselves and attach with a silky substance. Two articles with much more information about bagworms are at Wikipedia and Texas A & M University.

Shortly before this post was ready to go out, bagworms laden down with all their stuff suddenly reminded me of peddlers in times past and more recently.

© 2014 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

April 24, 2014 at 5:40 AM

18 Responses

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  1. This is one of the strangest things I’ve seen. I got as far as “insect(s)?”, but that was as far as I could go. Even after reading your description, I couldn’t quite decide whether the head at the top was to the right or the left (that eye-like feature on the right fooled me), but then I spotted the feet and realized it’s to the left.

    I just can’t get over this one.

    shoreacres

    April 24, 2014 at 7:32 AM

    • It’s one of the strangest things I’ve seen, too. The caterpillar is aimed up and to the left, so, as you realized, you’re looking at the left side of its head. The camouflage is excellent, and except for the occasional slight movement up the tree, this little thing would look like just another piece of rough bark.

      Steve Schwartzman

      April 24, 2014 at 9:10 AM

  2. I think the bagworm larva is the insect version of human hoarders. The poor thing.

    I readily ID’d it as a bagworm larva. They can cover a tree and destroy it when they get established.

    Jim in IA

    April 24, 2014 at 7:35 AM

    • I think you’re on to something about the connection to human hoarders, the main difference being that for the people who hoard this behavior is a kind of psychological rather than physical protection.

      I’ve never seen more than one of these, so thanks for letting us know they can occur in large numbers.

      Steve Schwartzman

      April 24, 2014 at 9:13 AM

  3. This is an amazing work. Great job!

    revpattison

    April 24, 2014 at 8:08 AM

  4. You do find the most interesting subjects. Once again I was sent scuttling to see if we have something similar here and, of course, we do http://www.terrain.net.nz/friends-of-te-henui-group/caterpillars/caterpillar-of-the-common-bag-moth-liothula-omnivore-liothula-omnivore.html Would it be correct to say that with this creature, you could be reminded of a peddler but not a bag lady?

    Gallivanta

    April 24, 2014 at 8:27 AM

    • That’s good: a peddler but not a bag lady.

      Insects of this type seem to be found over a large geographic range, so it’s not surprising that you should have a native one (or possibly more) in New Zealand.

      Steve Schwartzman

      April 24, 2014 at 9:25 AM

  5. I haven’t seen one of these in years~very cool. I also miss seeing caddis fly larvae, which do much the same thing under water.

    melissabluefineart

    April 24, 2014 at 9:13 AM

    • Cool it is. Thanks for pointing out the similarity to caddis fly larvae. I imagine they’re harder to see, being under water, unless they’re near the surface.

      Steve Schwartzman

      April 24, 2014 at 9:27 AM

      • I’ve learned since you posted this that lacewing larvae do the same thing: they look like little walking piles of debris. But it was the caddisfly larvae I was looking for when I found this nearly unbelievable article about the strange partnership between an artist and his pampered larvae.

        shoreacres

        January 27, 2018 at 6:51 PM

  6. Interesting and odd for sure –

    photoleaper

    April 24, 2014 at 10:37 AM

  7. Remarkable, and your links to photos of peddlers adds a brilliant touch!

    Susan Scheid

    May 1, 2014 at 7:01 AM


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