Portraits of Wildflowers

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Archive for August 14th, 2015


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Sawfly Larvae 8773

I’d never seen a purple caterpillar,
I never thought I’d see one,
But now I’ll stand atop a theater pillar
And proclaim that there really can be one.*

Okay, sources say these sawfly larvae (of indeterminate genus) aren’t truly caterpillars, but let’s not quibble over the word. The critters were having a good time on an Indian mallow plant, Abutilon fruticosum, that I’d stopped to photograph on June 25th in the greenbelt off Taylor Draper Cove. The colors in the background came from a flowering Gaillardia pulchella, known as firewheel, blanketflower, and Indian blanket. In particular, notice how the most prominent red head of one of the sawfly larvae is color-coordinated with the center of the firewheel.

UPDATE: This sawfly has been identified as Neoptilia tora. If you follow that link you can see what an adult looks like. As entomologist Mike Quinn explained in an e-mail on August 17: “Long story short, Dan Hardy, of Austin, reared some purple larvae he collected back in 2007 and sent an adult to Texas A&M University. Some years later, David R. Smith, the sawfly expert from the Smithsonian, visited the TAMU Insect Collection and ID’ed Dan’s specimen. Yesterday, Ed Riley and I looked for and found Dan’s spmn.”


* You may recognize this as a parody of Gelett Burgess’s “Purple Cow.” If you’re not sure what a theater pillar is, neither am I.

© 2015 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

August 14, 2015 at 5:14 AM

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