I Don't Know Caterpillars

I know a lot of birders are really jumping on to the butterfly bandwagon. I'm trying, but am having just a tough time. For one things butterflies are most active when I don't want to be out, high noon, when it's really hot. I've been getting into it a little bit, I've kept a monarch ranch and there are a couple of other butterflies I really enjoy--one being the mourning cloak. I've always wanted to find mourning cloak caterpillars but had no idea what they looked like.

I think one reason I get frustrated with the whole butterfly thing is that I find caterpillars more often than I do butterflies and I always wonder what those caterpillars turn into and for years there was no complete caterpillar guide. Last fall, all that changed I got this super cool book Caterpillars of Eastern North America. Since I got it the fall, I didn't really have a chance to put it into practice.

I didn't really see this as a sign of me getting into butterflies, I saw this as practical. You see birds eating caterpillars all the time, it would be good to know what they are after.

Sunday, Non Birding Bill and I were walking around (one of the best birding spots in Minnesota) the Old Cedar Avenue Bridge and there were tons of one type caterpillars all over the place (pictured above). I had no idea what they were, but I did notice some webbing on a nearby shrub and assumed they must have been some type of webworm moth. I took a photo and thought I would put my new field guide to the test. And for the rest of the walk we watched birds swooping down and eating them.

We got home and I searched the webworm section--nothing. So then I just started flipping through the book, and I found it: they were mourning cloaks! Doh! I had one in my hand. We had them all over. We watched a couple of robins fight over one. They were all on the move and must have been looking for a place to make a chrysalis, and I missed them. Why, oh why didn't I take one home? From now on, the caterpillar guide is coming with me in the car like Sibley.