Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Eupithecia miserulata

with 32 comments

The scientific name in this post’s title is a mouthful, and the common name “common eupithecia” is hardly common outside of lepidopteran groups and entomological websites. The good folks at bugguide.net identified this moth larva for me. At least I knew that the flower head it was on at the entrance to Great Hills Park on May 18th was a firewheel, Gaillardia pulchella, also called Indian blanket and blanketflower. For a closer look at the little green eating machine, click the thumbnail below to zoom in.

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Here’s an item for the Fiction Rivals Reality department. On March 30, 1981, when recently inaugurated President Ronald Reagan was shot in an assassination attempt, he seemed initially unharmed. Secret Service agent Jerry Parr then noticed a little foamy blood on Reagan’s mouth, realized he’d been hit after all, and saw to it that he was rushed to a hospital. According to an editorial in the Wall Street Journal that refers to the book Zero Fail, by reporter Carol Leonnig: “When Parr was a kid he saw a 1939 movie, ‘Code of the Secret Service,’ which made him want to be an agent. The central character, fearless agent Brass Bancroft, was played by Ronald Reagan, whose life Parr saved some four decades later. Life is full of strange, unseen circularities.”

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

May 25, 2021 at 4:38 AM

32 Responses

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  1. Scientific names for flowers can be terrible tongue-twisters or else very hard to remember – argh!

    Ann Mackay

    May 25, 2021 at 5:25 AM

    • Scientific names as a whole are often unnecessarily complicated. Some of them have too many vowels in a row, for example the -eae at the end of the name of a family like the Asteraceae that includes firewheels.

      Steve Schwartzman

      May 25, 2021 at 7:28 AM

      • They’re a nightmare to spell!

        Ann Mackay

        May 25, 2021 at 5:47 PM

        • I have an advantage in having taken Latin for three years in high school. Still, like you, I wish biologists used names that are easier to spell.

          Steve Schwartzman

          May 25, 2021 at 6:33 PM

          • I took Latin too because I was mostly doing languages. Although it makes understanding the names easier, spelling them is another matter!

            Ann Mackay

            May 26, 2021 at 5:48 PM

            • My father advised me to take Latin as my first foreign language, and I was always grateful for it.

              Steve Schwartzman

              May 26, 2021 at 8:01 PM

  2. I have a similar photo of a similar caterpillar I found at the Attwater prairie last October. Mine was lying across the center of a lanceleaf blanket flower; now, it’s off to BugGuide for the identification I’ve put off.

    My critter has the same green background, but not the chevrons. It could be another species, or a different stage. While I was scrolling through the images on BugGuide, I noticed that this one’s an inchworm. I found a few photos of it ‘standing up’ on its rear legs, as that kind of caterpillar will do; since it belongs to the Geometridae, there’s your math connection for the morning.


    May 25, 2021 at 7:23 AM

    • And the first math connection of the morning it is, too. Guess I’ll have to balance that with some etymology by pointing out that chevron, which you used in describing this green inchworm, goes back to much larger animals, namely deer and goats: https://www.ahdictionary.com/word/search.html?q=chevron. As soon as I saw this one on the firewheel I recognized it as an inchworm. The first few pictures I took recorded a pose in which one end had rotated 180° from the other end.

      Steve Schwartzman

      May 25, 2021 at 7:39 AM

      • Those are some markings on that inchworm! I myself thought of filled arrowheads, as I drew many as a drafter, then much later using computers. Speaking of inchworms, I appreciate Shoreacres’ link to Geometridae, a reminder about them as “subset” (my word) to Lepidoptera (butterflies and moths). Self-promo: I just posted blog article and YT video “8 Caterpillars and Inchworms from April 11-17 2021”, https://whilldtkwriter.blogspot.com/2021/05/8-caterpillars-and-inchworms-from-april.html and https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-WTPmSUl6Jg. Some are still mystery critters.

        Say, can either of you confirm that “trapezey” (my word) critters are always of the Geometridae family?


        May 27, 2021 at 6:59 AM

        • That’s quite a compendium of information you put together in your post. Alas, when it comes to identifying species, I know very little, and can’t answer your question about “trapezey” critters.

          What you said about the markings resembling arrowheads makes me wonder why “arrowhead caterpillar” or “arrowhead moth” never became a common name for this species or others like it.

          Steve Schwartzman

          May 27, 2021 at 7:15 AM

  3. Nice photo of this exquisite flower and larva. A friend who’s an entomology professor likes to tell a story that people from the public sometimes call her, complaining that there are no butterflies in their garden, and ask what they can do about it. She replies that, in order to have butterflies, one must take good care of, rather than kill, the caterpillars.

    Ugh I never know where to put the commas in English 😉.

    Alessandra Chaves

    May 25, 2021 at 7:47 AM

    • That’s a good anecdote about the entomology professor. I could add one from botany and point out that a good way to have wildflowers along roadsides is to stop mowing them down.

      Your first paragraph’s last sentence has commas in all the right places, so you can retract your ugh. We can link punctuation to lepidopterans by pointing out that there are butterflies called the comma and the question mark:

      Steve Schwartzman

      May 25, 2021 at 8:07 AM

      • The comparison is very cool, thanks for that. When I was learning English in high school, the teachers avoided the subject of punctuation. They would tell us that it’s very complicated and that the rules are difficult to follow. I have tried to learn on my own, but more often than not, I’m guessing.

        Alessandra Chaves

        May 25, 2021 at 8:33 AM

        • I wouldn’t agree with your teachers that the standard rules of English punctuation are difficult to follow. Maybe that’s because I’m a native speaker and I grew up with them. Objectively speaking, though, they seem pretty straightforward—even if I disagree with at least two of them. When it comes to punctuation marks inside versus outside the end of a quotation, the way Britons do it is more logical than the way Americans do it. In the two sentences below, I’d gladly go with the second, which is the British style, except that American editors would think I don’t know what I’m doing.

          He dislikes the word “impactful.”
          He dislikes the word “impactful”.

          I follow British style in always using the so-called Oxford comma in a series, as in the second of these sentences:

          I bought tomatoes, lettuce and celery.
          I bought tomatoes, lettuce, and celery.

          Steve Schwartzman

          May 25, 2021 at 10:29 AM

          • Yes, those two are difficult for me too. I tend not to use the comma before “and”, as in your last sentence, because in Portuguese you would not be allowed to use one after “e”. Comprei tomates, alface e salsa. The punctuation marks inside versus outside the end of a quotation is only an issue when I have to send a paper for publication. Journals usually specify the format they want. It is advantageous to me, as a non-native speaker, that most people these days don’t care about punctuation, or grammar rules in general, particularly in social media. Careless punctuation, unfortunately, is a source of a lot of misunderstandings in social media. My grandfather liked to repeat “Matar o rei não é pecado” (killing the king is not a sin), then show us kids how inserting the commas would change the sentence to something that would not get your head cut off (in the middle ages of course). “Matar o rei, não, é pecado.” 😉

            Alessandra Chaves

            May 25, 2021 at 10:46 AM

            • I like that example your grandfather showed you. It reminds me of the oracles back in ancient Roman times, whom people would turn to for advice. A long time ago I was shown a statement by an oracle that included the Latin negative non in the middle of it. Depending on whether you associate the non with first part of the sentence or the second part, you get opposite meanings. It’s been so many decades I no longer remember the words or I’d repeat them here. It had something to do with winning a battle and being destroyed.

              Steve Schwartzman

              May 25, 2021 at 11:33 AM

          • Steve, I totally agree with your use of the quotation marks as delimiters for a term, with the punctuation outside. For that matter, in almost all cases, if I quote, my closing quote marks go in front of the period. Consider that American-style punctuation follows our model if using exclamation points and question marks, but the period and commas “weirdly” go outside.

            As for Oxford comma, I always use them. A couple of illustrated examples of Oxford comma and its omission are at https://koine-greek.com/2016/01/20/oxford-comma-memes-evidence-against-the-oxford-comma WRT jfk and stalin, and Tim Tebow.


            May 27, 2021 at 6:35 AM

            • It’s the arbitrarily different treatment of periods and commas versus exclamation marks and question marks that makes no sense and annoys me. The problem now is that if I go with British style for periods and commas, American editors will think I don’t know how to punctuate properly. When I’ve commented on blogs of people in countries like New Zealand I’ve taken advantage of the opportunity to put a period outside a closing quotation mark.

              The writer of your linked article thinks that the examples with well-known people make his case against the Oxford comma, precisely because those people are so well known that no reader will misinterpret the meaning of the sentence. I’ve come across examples of sentences involving simple words, not well-known names, where the meaning really does change depending on whether you use the Oxford comma. I’m sorry I don’t have an example in mind to include here.

              Steve Schwartzman

              May 27, 2021 at 6:59 AM

              • Maybe with less-famous peoples’ names, and illustrations showing both sets of possible interpretations for each example, the case FOR Oxford comma might be stronger.


                May 27, 2021 at 8:15 AM

      • What an eye-opener to see that butterflies with names of comma and question mark! I found a site that explained and further illustrate the contrast–“Butterflies that Punctuate: The Eastern Comma and the Question Mark”, https://trekohio.com/2013/04/24/butterflies-that-punctuate-the-eastern-comma-and-the-question-mark/.


        May 27, 2021 at 6:42 AM

        • The existence of comma and question mark butterflies came to my attention about 20 years ago, at the same time I started photographing native plants. Naturally I sometimes found butterflies on flowers, so to identify them I bought the book Butterflies of Houston and Southeast Texas.

          Steve Schwartzman

          May 27, 2021 at 7:02 AM

  4. Oh, my word! That tale gave me goosebumps! How eerie and cool at the same time!

    That blossom is lovely, and the caterpillar is a nice bonus.


    May 25, 2021 at 8:23 AM

    • Yes, sometimes truth is stranger than fiction. Your goosebumps are warranted.
      Firewheels are fetching in their own right, and here the inchworm added appeal.

      Steve Schwartzman

      May 25, 2021 at 10:12 AM

  5. I hope that the moth larva does not eat this lovely flower. From what I know caterpillars prefer leaves rather than petals.

    Peter Klopp

    May 25, 2021 at 8:33 AM

    • You raise a good question; I don’t know what these larvae eat. The fact that this one was on the flower head and not on the plant’s leaves may tell us something.

      Steve Schwartzman

      May 25, 2021 at 10:14 AM

  6. What a vibrant beauty, Steve, and the caterpillar adds an interesting contrast.

    Jane Lurie

    May 26, 2021 at 12:27 AM

  7. There are just too many moth species to come up with a cute name for them all, I guess. Eupithecia doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue, at least at first.

    Steve Gingold

    May 26, 2021 at 4:21 AM

    • I think you’ve hit it: just too many moth species for them all to have common names. Still, it seems like the genus as a whole could’ve developed a name that would mean more to people than Eupithecia.

      Steve Schwartzman

      May 26, 2021 at 5:18 AM

  8. I love the colors in this photo, and I’m always a bit partial to insects in flower photos. It adds something extra that I quite like. I don’t know if this one was doing it, but I picture it gorging itself on one petal after another.

    Todd Henson

    May 29, 2021 at 5:27 PM

    • This picture was certainly about colors (and shapes). Caterpillars are eating machines, so I expect this one was about to have its fill—whether on the firewheel or elsewhere, I don’t know. I often find insects on plants; that’s their world, after all.

      Steve Schwartzman

      May 29, 2021 at 6:55 PM

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