Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

What is that?

with 36 comments

That’s what we wondered at the Doeskin Ranch on November 24th after Eve spotted this strange thing and waited for me to catch up from my picture-taking so she could point it out. I’d read about insects that cover themselves with objects to act as camouflage, and that’s what appeared to have happened here. To learn the specifics, I turned to local expert Val Bugh, who identified this as “a bagworm moth case (Psychidae). Our big species here is Oiketicus abbotii (if I’m correct in estimating your example is about 2 inches long [she was correct] — the small species are less than half as big). This bag is empty and the exuviae is sticking out the bottom, indicating a male eclosed and flew off. The females never leave their sac.”

Written by Steve Schwartzman

December 29, 2018 at 4:39 AM

36 Responses

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  1. A very attractive casing. Who knew a moth could be so artistic.


    December 29, 2018 at 4:59 AM

  2. Interesting….glad Eve spotted that 🙂


    December 29, 2018 at 5:03 AM

  3. I remember seeing those when I was a kid. Dad told me about them. The bags I saw were not fancy and decorative like this one.

    Jim R

    December 29, 2018 at 6:58 AM

    • Then you were decades ahead of me in seeing one of these bags, even if less fancy. For all my time in nature, I don’t recall ever having come across another one.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 29, 2018 at 7:02 AM

      • I don’t remember what kind of tree it was on. Our farm had few trees, mostly corn and bean fields.

        Jim R

        December 29, 2018 at 7:05 AM

        • And I don’t recall what kind of sapling this was on, assuming I ever even knew. I can tell you for sure it wasn’t corn or beans.

          Steve Schwartzman

          December 29, 2018 at 7:19 AM

          • Here is someone’s photo of what ours looked like. Sort of the low-rent model. https://goo.gl/images/UtHZrx

            Jim R

            December 29, 2018 at 7:43 AM

            • When I went searching online a few weeks ago I found pictures looking like that one, or maybe even that very one. What I didn’t find was an image of a case resembling the one in this post. Maybe this kind is less common.

              Steve Schwartzman

              December 29, 2018 at 7:56 AM

  4. Wow! What a capture, Steve! I find this highly interesting… about how far off the ground/how far up was it?


    December 29, 2018 at 8:12 AM

    • I’d say 3 or 4 feet off the ground. It sure was strange, wasn’t it? It took me 20 years to find the first one, so I don’t know if there’ll ever be another.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 29, 2018 at 8:31 AM

  5. Fascinating! Thanks for chasing down the mystery.

    Anima Monday

    December 29, 2018 at 8:48 AM

  6. Well. Speaking of predators being around, I’m wondering now if I caught a glimpse of a little predation taking place down at the Brazoria refuge. In 2016, I found what I’m sure was a starbellied orb weaver (Acanthepeira stellata) in the middle of its web. It kept going over to what I assumed was its egg case and fussing around. Here’s a photo that shows the spider and the case.

    Now I’m wondering whether I found a spider and its egg case, or a spider and a bagworm moth case. I’d completely forgotten about the little oddity until I saw your photo. What I’d assumed was a spider securing its own egg case might have been a spider securing a future meal. More exploration’s needed.


    December 29, 2018 at 2:24 PM

    • Nature’s just full of little unknowns, isn’t it? The thing in the right half of your picture certainly looks similar to the bagworm moth case shown here. I did a little searching for a picture of an egg case for your species of spider, including on bugguide.net, but didn’t turn one up. Some more-diligent searching might lead to a picture, or if you know any local entomologists maybe you could turn to them.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 29, 2018 at 3:32 PM

  7. Bagworms are cool. I’ve not seen their empty cases, just them carrying their collection of debris around on their backs.

    Steve Gingold

    December 29, 2018 at 6:48 PM

    • Now that you mention it, I think I also saw one moving around once, a long time ago. I still find them strange.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 29, 2018 at 8:49 PM

  8. Nature’s tree ornaments!


    December 29, 2018 at 7:26 PM

  9. That would make a great holiday ornament!


    December 29, 2018 at 9:13 PM

  10. Oh, that is an odd one. I have heard of those, but they are not so elaborate here. There were some in Southern California that just used grit and finely textured ‘stuff’. It was not that impressive. I do not think there are any here. (There are ‘bagworms’, but they are something different.)


    December 30, 2018 at 10:17 PM

  11. You do have keen powers of observation, spotting this as something unusual, whereas, at least at first glance of your photo, I thought pine cone, then realizing that was wrong, a clump of leaves. The natural world is sure full of surprises.

    Best wishes for the year ahead!

    Susan Scheid

    December 31, 2018 at 9:28 AM

    • Same to you, as always from one S.Sch. to another.

      In this case I don’t know if I would have spotted the curious thing on my own. Eve found it and called my attention to it when I caught up with her. I’ve always assumed I miss at least as much as I notice.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 31, 2018 at 9:42 AM

  12. Great info Steve .. Handsome moth too 🙂


    December 31, 2018 at 11:44 PM

  13. Pretty cool. I’ve seen these frequently over the years but never with the escape hatch open at the bottom.


    January 15, 2019 at 10:12 AM

    • Then you’re well ahead of me, as this was the first of its type I recall seeing. I did once see a different type.

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 15, 2019 at 1:17 PM

      • And I remember seeing caddis fly larvae in streams…I don’t see them anymore sadly. When we lived in Brazil there was a little park across the avenue, with a pond. Caterpillars of a similar species were dangling on gossamer strands over the water. I outraged the maid who came with the apartment by bringing one home in a jar. sigh. You’ve reminded me of a fun memory! 🙂


        January 16, 2019 at 9:01 AM

        • I’m glad to have revived that happy memory from so long ago.

          Steve Schwartzman

          January 16, 2019 at 12:27 PM

          • Yes, along with the look on my mother’s face when I’d found a nest of baby garter snakes and came running with a fistful of wriggling little snakes to show her. Teehee. She locked the door!!


            January 17, 2019 at 8:42 AM

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