Snowberry Clearwing Caterpillar

Snowberry Clearwing. Sounds like a unicorn name, doesn’t it?  But it’s a type of sphinx moth—Hemaris diffinis—and before it becomes a moth, it’s a caterpillar. The caterpillar even has a single “horn,” though fake (to scare predators) and on the rear (to confuse predators).

I’ve finally met the caterpillar. It was an accident, this meeting, and the result of my assignment to destroy a wire trellis with bolt-cutters. Careful to move plant stems out of the way (a native coral honeysuckle), I felt a stem squiggle in my fingers, and it was a juicy Snowberry Clearwing larva. So cute. And then I saw a dozen or so caterpillars camouflaged on green leaves. Wisely, they were all anchored on the vine stems, not the leaves, so that they would not paint themselves into a corner, so to speak.

What wasn’t an accident was the presence of Snowberry Clearwing larvae on a native coral honeysuckle. This is the plant Mom moth aims for with her eggs, because when the eggs hatch, this is the plant the babies will eat. And eat and eat.

Snowberry is a common name for a plant in the honeysuckle family, but I don’t think we have it in Nashville. We do have Coralberry (Symphoricarpos orbiculatus). I’m still trying to find out if Coralberry is host to Snowberry Clearwings. Also, is the exotic invasive Amur honeysuckle on the menu?

The “Clearwings” part is self-evident when you see the adult moth. Clear wings.

To see a gorgeous photo of the gorgeous adult, look at my friend Gail’s native garden blog entry about Snowberry Clearwing moth action. They are important pollinators, they usually fly only by day, and they look and sound like a mix of giant bumblebee and small hummingbird.

Rainbow-Unicorn.jpgSeriously, Snowberry Clearwing sounds like something from the Unicorn Name Generator. Try it: (link). I just did, and my new unicorn name, should I require one for a tabletop role-playing game or online multiplayer game, is Ivy Celestial Cheeks. My other two (because who can stop at one unicorn name?) are Poppy Lovely Rump and Windflower Candy Tail.

While admiring the caterpillars today, I watched a red wasp fly directly to the one larva on the ground. Green camouflage doesn’t work on brown mulch. The wasp landed on it for a second before I shooed it away. I’m not in the habit of shooing away wasps, but this one was persistent and required all the arm and foot waving I dared. Then, the wasp found the other larvae on the vine and aimed for those. I guess the fake horn isn’t so scary after all.

After shooing, I read that red wasps take caterpillars home for dinner. *As* dinner. For the kids.

I also read that when a larva is ready to pupate, it forms a cocoon and lives in “leaf litter” or “underground.” Which is it? If leaf litter, this is another reason not to rake, mow and blow every leaf off your yard in the fall.
The cocoon looks rather like a cat turd, according to photos, and they’ll stay a turd all winter to emerge in spring. When, exactly?
This, I must see.

SO THRILLED. And now I want another native honeysuckle vine to feed an army of Clearwing larvae.

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