In late September while doing some outside chores, the phrase “Get your camera” hit my ears. It is not an uncommon event, there’s always someone, somewhere, finding something that desperately needs its photo taken. I attempt to be timely in response since many animals are fleet of foot. This time however, it was this interesting caterpillar. Since getting a new book with wonderful pictures, identification is much easier. This one is commonly known as a “Prominent” (Notodontidae family) and belongs to the subfamily Heterocampinae which doesn’t seem to have a common name. Its full name is Heterocampa umbrata or White-Blotched Heterocampa.
Its similar in looks to the other Heterocampa catepillars and the book describes it as “Green, tan, pink or reddish brown with a confusing array of patterns.” What really distinguishes it from the other Heterocampa catepillars is not its coloration but the pair of shiny raised knobs on the Prothorax (the area immediately behind the head). But enough with names, where did it come from, where was it going and why.
It was found in a pile of fallen brown leaves, crawling along one of the top ones. Green oak leaves are its primary food, so it is common in the woods. Most people don’t see them because they are usually up in the tree munching on a leaf. This one had the misfortune, or perhaps fortune, to fall out of the tree. Nothing was said in the book about when or where they make a cocoon or pupa. Could be, it needed to be on the ground to burrow under these leaves and form a pupa or perhaps it just needs to spend the winter under a fallen branch or tree. Leaves were beginning to fall. Or it might be on the ground because it fell after being discovered by a clumsy bird.
These catepillars are commonly found in the Ozark oak woodlands and as far north as southern Canada, as far south as Arkansas and Florida. That’s quite a range. If looking for this Heterocampus or others, give some of the smaller oak trees a shake, see what falls. It helps if you lay a white sheet on the ground under the branches you shake. Who knows what wonderful critters you may find.