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Attack Caterpillars! (correction, Marauding Sawfly Larvae)





watersoul
A few days ago I noticed a small tree in my yard had been completely stripped bare of leaves by hundreds/thousands of attack caterpillars! Shocked
As if that wasn't bad enough for the tree, they all started dropping to the floor and climbing up my bike. Absolutely covered with them for a a day or two, as the pic of my hand grip shows...

...until they realised the bike was a poor meal and they headed for my front door and up the wall of the house. I've never seen so many caterpillars together on a common mission of munching stuff, it made me glad I'm not a plant!

I didn't use anything to kill them, the tree should survive, so any action by me would just have been punishment not problem solving. 1-0 to the caterpillars I guess.

Anyone had similar creepy crawly coordinated attacks? Or does anyone know what caterpillars they are?
Obviously I've tried searching on Google but after looking at a million different greenish caterpillars I gave up! Lol
Nameless
I, for one, welcome our new etc.

That is kind of creepy though. If I were you I'd be making extra double sure that there were no cracks or holes into your house. Or you could spend an afternoon gathering them up in a bucket and using them to troll a particularly annoying neighbour. Very Happy
standready
Capture one or dozen of them. See if they cocoon and see what they transform turn into. Or just take a sample catch to an expert in your area.
watersoul
Nameless wrote:
Or you could spend an afternoon gathering them up in a bucket and using them to troll a particularly annoying neighbour. Very Happy

One of my closest mates is my closest neighbour and that would've been funny as, but they've all disappeared into the cracks now, so unless they hibernate for winter and come back in spring, I guess thats the end of my caterpillar story!

...mental note, research UK caterpillar behaviour habits Smile
watersoul
standready wrote:
Capture one or dozen of them. See if they cocoon and see what they transform turn into. Or just take a sample catch to an expert in your area.


Brilliant idea, and wish I'd done it yesterday but they all seem to have gone now Evil or Very Mad
ocalhoun
Seems to me, an insect expert could probably identify them just from the photo you took...
(At least to the point of narrowing it down to just a few possibilities.)

Or perhaps a forum or website dedicated to such insect experts?

*edit*
It might also help to identify the tree they were eating, since some caterpillars eat only certain plants.
watersoul
ocalhoun wrote:

Or perhaps a forum or website dedicated to such insect experts?

Good idea, I'd thought the same myself but didn't really want to be the typical new user who registers, asks one question then never visits the forum again.
I have found an interesting insect forum though and they have a section just for "what is this?" so I'm waiting for a mod to approve my registration request.
From reading other posts on the site, the members there seem happy with being kind of used as an information service. I guess if bugs are their thing, they're happy to share their knowledge.
ocalhoun wrote:

It might also help to identify the tree they were eating, since some caterpillars eat only certain plants.

Golden Willow [Salix alba vitellina]
watersoul
*Update*

A very kind person on the insect forum I raised the question on has informed me that they were not caterpillars at all, but larvae of Sawfly, and more specifically, from the Tenthredinidae family.

It turns out that it's easy to confuse the two but the giveaway is that they have six or more pairs of prolegs on the abdomen, whereas caterpillars typically have 5 or less. They also have two 'simple eyes' instead of the caterpillars six. Larvae are known to enjoy willow trees particularly, which helps narrow the culprits down to the Tenthredinidae critters who enjoyed a feast in my garden.

Learned something new today but I won't have bad feelings for the little creepy crawleys, the tree lived through it, and good luck to them for the free meal. Laughing
Ankhanu
Had a feeling they might be sawflies; I've been confused by similar species on my scotch pine a couple years back. But, I didn't really know how to distinguish tenthredinids versus the various lepidopteran (butterfly/moth) caterpillars so didn't feel comfortable venturing a guess... and now I know, thanks Wink
Josso
watersoul wrote:
...mental note, research UK caterpillar behaviour habits Smile


Yeah I'm with you on that one, never seen anything like that though.

Is there something weird in that rubber that they thought they could eat? Maybe they thought it was part of the tree...
deanhills
Josso wrote:
watersoul wrote:
...mental note, research UK caterpillar behaviour habits Smile


Yeah I'm with you on that one, never seen anything like that though.

Is there something weird in that rubber that they thought they could eat? Maybe they thought it was part of the tree...
Would be interesting to see whether anything went inside the handles. Where did those guys go in the end.
Shocked
menino
I believe that caterpillars turn into butterflies, right?
So if you see a lot of butterflies in the area, be glad that you didn't kill them.

Of course, if they turn out to be sawflies from caterpillars... I'm not sure of that is a good thing.
deanhills
menino wrote:
I believe that caterpillars turn into butterflies, right?
So if you see a lot of butterflies in the area, be glad that you didn't kill them.

Of course, if they turn out to be sawflies from caterpillars... I'm not sure of that is a good thing.

Hehe - just imagine Watersoul's bike with plenty of butterflies coming out of the handles. He'll be the envy of his community!
Very Happy
menino
lol deanhills..... I just also had another thought.... what if they are moths?
That would be terrible, as they eat almost everything in their path, and they already seem to be headed that way.
Watersoul could be the new mothman. Laughing
deanhills
menino wrote:
lol deanhills..... I just also had another thought.... what if they are moths?
That would be terrible, as they eat almost everything in their path, and they already seem to be headed that way.
Watersoul could be the new mothman. Laughing
Right! they could then write a movie about it as well. Very Happy
Ghost Rider103
menino wrote:
lol deanhills..... I just also had another thought.... what if they are moths?
That would be terrible, as they eat almost everything in their path, and they already seem to be headed that way.
Watersoul could be the new mothman. Laughing


Hopefully better than the original Mothman. Just watched that last night, horrible movie and very horrible / cheesy effects.

Kind of weird about the larva though. I don't see too many Caterpillars here, not sure if we have those larva things either. But it is a bit creepy.
lightwate
Are those the type that becomes butterflies? I can imagine your tree with hundreds/thousands of little cocoons. It might be creepy for some, but I think it's definitely amazing. if that happens, can you post a picture of it? Very Happy haha.

And when they become butterflies...
deanhills
lightwate wrote:
Are those the type that becomes butterflies? I can imagine your tree with hundreds/thousands of little cocoons. It might be creepy for some, but I think it's definitely amazing. if that happens, can you post a picture of it? Very Happy haha.

And when they become butterflies...
Ha .... along surreal lines, I just see the tree becoming one enormous butterfly. Ha, this has so many possibilities for science fiction or scary movies.
Very Happy
watersoul
Ankhanu wrote:
Had a feeling they might be sawflies; [...] didn't feel comfortable venturing a guess

We're in the non-critical general chat forum, not science, so a guess would have been more than welcome fella Wink
...I didn't even know that any flies went through metamorphosis so I'd have been searching forever for moth/butterfly caterpillars.
Hmm, maybe I should change the topic subject title now I know its wrong?

Josso wrote:
Is there something weird in that rubber that they thought they could eat? Maybe they thought it was part of the tree...

Well they dropped to the floor from the tree when they'd munched all its leaves so I guess they went on instinct and climbed up again at the first chance.
I reckon the lucky ones who made it to my ivy were laughing at the critters lost on my bike.

deanhills wrote:
Would be interesting to see whether anything went inside the handles. Where did those guys go in the end.
Shocked

Disappeared up the wall of my house and in the Ivy, I'll probably get some crazy swarm of Sawflies at some point, unless they've already done their thing and cleared off somewhere else.

menino wrote:
Of course, if they turn out to be sawflies from caterpillars... I'm not sure of that is a good thing.

Everything has it's place, even flies and their larvae... I'm sure some garden birds had a nice little munch as well Smile

deanhills wrote:
Hehe - just imagine Watersoul's bike with plenty of butterflies coming out of the handles. He'll be the envy of his community!
Very Happy

Sadly that seems as though it won't happen, but it would be cool if it did.
Butterflies streaming out of my bike? Way more colourful than any of ocalhouns ponies! Wink

menino wrote:

Watersoul could be the new mothman. Laughing

Nah, now we know what they are, I think 'The Fly' would be more appropriate!

Ghost Rider103 wrote:
Kind of weird about the larva though. I don't see too many Caterpillars here, not sure if we have those larva things either. But it is a bit creepy.

At least they seem to prefer bikes and the wall of my house than eating me so I can cope with that.
Now, waking up in my bed covered by them would be a whole different matter! Shocked

lightwate wrote:
Are those the type that becomes butterflies? I can imagine your tree with hundreds/thousands of little cocoons. It might be creepy for some, but I think it's definitely amazing. if that happens, can you post a picture of it?

I wish they were, but it appears they were Sawflies... Maybe I really should change the topic subject title
Laughing
ocalhoun
watersoul wrote:

...I didn't even know that any flies went through metamorphosis so I'd have been searching forever for moth/butterfly caterpillars.

Most insects do.
Not all have a caterpillar-like stage, but most do have a larva/pupa/nymph/whatever stage... and some go through lots of changes between different forms before finally becoming an adult.
Ankhanu
watersoul wrote:
Ankhanu wrote:
Had a feeling they might be sawflies; [...] didn't feel comfortable venturing a guess

We're in the non-critical general chat forum, not science, so a guess would have been more than welcome fella Wink

Yeah, but, being an entomologist (focused on beetles, however), I didn't want to make a fool of myself Wink

ocalhoun wrote:
watersoul wrote:

...I didn't even know that any flies went through metamorphosis so I'd have been searching forever for moth/butterfly caterpillars.

Most insects do.
Not all have a caterpillar-like stage, but most do have a larva/pupa/nymph/whatever stage... and some go through lots of changes between different forms before finally becoming an adult.


All go through a metamorphosis, yeah. Thing is there are two basic forms, incomplete (hemimetabolism) and complete (holometabolism).
Incomplete metamorphosis is characterized in insects by young that are similar to adults, with wings (when present) growing with each instar (size/age stage between molts) until the final molt into the adult stage, which is reproductive, with fully developed wings. Grasshoppers are classic examples of hemimetabolic insects. The pre-adult stages tend to be referred to as nymphs.
Complete metamorphosis is characterized in having distinct life stages; egg -> larva -> pupae -> adult, in which each stage is different. The larva is often grub or caterpillar like, though not always, and primarily feeds and feeds to get the energy to become adults. The pupa is usually completely immobile, and the adult forms within it, until it is ready to emerge, wings and all to go about the duties of being an adult. Flies, beetles, wasps, butterflies/moths and a few other groups undergo complete metamorphosis.

There are adaptive advantages to both strategies, though incomplete metamorphosis is the more primitive development path. An advantage in complete metamorphosis systems, for example, is that, generally, the larvae and adults make use of different habitats and food sources, and thereby don't compete with one another for resources.

Side note - Sawflies are wasps (Order Hymenoptera), not flies (Order Diptera) Wink Common names are very misleading in many cases... and highlights the importance of taxonomic (scientific) naming.
Sawfly:

Actual fly:
deanhills
Ankhanu wrote:
Side note - Sawflies are wasps (Order Hymenoptera), not flies (Order Diptera) Wink Common names are very misleading in many cases... and highlights the importance of taxonomic (scientific) naming.
Moving from butterflies to wasps puts a whole new spin what comes out of those bicycle handles. So are these the wasps we know that build nests. So if this is to evolve Watersoul may eventually need pest control to intervene?
Shocked
ocalhoun
deanhills wrote:
So are these the wasps we know that build nests.

If they were nest-building wasps, the larvae would be raised inside the nest, and emerge as adults.
deanhills
ocalhoun wrote:
deanhills wrote:
So are these the wasps we know that build nests.

If they were nest-building wasps, the larvae would be raised inside the nest, and emerge as adults.
OK. So one gets nest-building wasps and wasps that don't build nests. Ankhanu must have his area of expertise cut out for him!
Very Happy
Ankhanu
deanhills wrote:
ocalhoun wrote:
deanhills wrote:
So are these the wasps we know that build nests.

If they were nest-building wasps, the larvae would be raised inside the nest, and emerge as adults.
OK. So one gets nest-building wasps and wasps that don't build nests. Ankhanu must have his area of expertise cut out for him!
Very Happy

You're thinking (primarily) of superfamily Vespoidea, and primarily Vespidae: yellowjackets, hornets, and the like, those yellow/orange/white and black stripey angry guys.
Sawflies aren't really like them, and, as ocalhoun pointed out, they don't build nests, hence the roving larvae; they just lay their eggs in the tissues of a plant (using the saw-like ovipositor that gives their common name) and bugger off, leaving the young to develop on their own. You might notice in the picture of the sawfly that it's body is pretty thick throughout, they don't have that characteristic "wasp waiste" constriction between the thorax and abdomen that most bees, ants and wasps have; they're a little more primitive than the more commonly considered wasps (primitive meaning ancestral not unevolved... they're just as evolved, but contain more ancestral traits than more derived groups; this is a common sort of misunderstanding of how terms are used in common versus biological speech).

And yeah, entomologists have our work cut out for us in several regards, not least of which is the fact that there are ~1million insect species on the planet (~3-400,000 of which are beetles, my chosen group, and ~130,000 of which are bees/wasps/ants, for which this thread was created)... specialization in small groups is a must. There's also the problem that most lay-people don't like/care about insects, which makes it hard to secure funding to study them, without spinning the proposals to some other slant Razz
deanhills
Ankhanu wrote:
There's also the problem that most lay-people don't like/care about insects, which makes it hard to secure funding to study them, without spinning the proposals to some other slant Razz
Thanks for all the info. We're lucky to have a specialist like you around. Well I definitely don't like flies at all. The flies here in the UAE are different to the ones in North America. They are slightly smaller, extremely fast and fly in haphazard blitz directions, even difficult sometimes to actually see them while they are flying, they are that fast. They don't go for the torso, straight for the face, ears, nose and eyes. Can you imagine flies in your face - anyway, they're on my hit list of course. I'm not too crazy about cockroaches, but at one stage when I was living in Durban, South Africa, shared space with them, and it did not feel that bad, I got used to them. I'm also not very partial to mosquitoes. Between them and flies, I'm not entirely sure what their benefits are to mankind, so would be great to hear from you as someone who must have made quite a study of them, how they are beneficial to the environment?
Very Happy
Ankhanu
Flies (Diptera) are one of the larger insect Orders, with ~120,000 species... The fles from region to region in North America are different, let alone amongst entire continents. They cover a wide variety of niches, have a variety of body forms, sizes and activities. In fact, mosquitos are a type of fly (Family Culicidae), so you can lump them in together with the other flies you don't like.

Asking what benefit they have for mankind and how they're beneficial to the environment are vastly different questions! Floods, for example are not particularly beneficial to the people living on flood plains, but they are environmentally beneficial, delivering an influx of nutrients to the land... Of course they're also destructive killing some things and altering the landscape... Nothing is ever simply beneficial or detrimental.
How do predatory/parasitic if flies benefit mankind? They don't, really... Though we benefit them, providing a food source and, in some cases, such as with many of the pest mosquitos, we provide breeding habitat! How do they benefit the environment? Well, they're just another trophic link in the ecosystem; they consume various organisms and detritus I their habitats, transforming energy and resources into other forms, and provide food for a plethora of other organisms themselves. Many birds feed on the adults (and occasionally larvae), they're prey for other insects throughout their lifecycles, they're food for all kinds of detritivores when dead, etc.

All organisms contribute, in some way, to the functioning and energy transfer within their ecosystems... Even if we're too narrowly focused to see/appreciate it from our anthropocentric perspectives.
deanhills
Ankhanu wrote:
All organisms contribute, in some way, to the functioning and energy transfer within their ecosystems... Even if we're too narrowly focused to see/appreciate it from our anthropocentric perspectives.
I still don't see any benefit - sort of an "oops" in the design of the Universe. But then it is probably because my thinking is not right. I should not think contribute, but it just is the way it is. For every positive there is a negative. Flies and mosquitoes are some of the negatives.
Twisted Evil
menino
lol @ watersoul as "the fly".

Well, I also didnt know caterpillars could turn into flies, as I thought that flies actually evolved from maggots, but maybe sawflies are different.
Ankhanu
deanhills wrote:
Ankhanu wrote:
All organisms contribute, in some way, to the functioning and energy transfer within their ecosystems... Even if we're too narrowly focused to see/appreciate it from our anthropocentric perspectives.
I still don't see any benefit - sort of an "oops" in the design of the Universe. But then it is probably because my thinking is not right. I should not think contribute, but it just is the way it is. For every positive there is a negative. Flies and mosquitoes are some of the negatives.
Twisted Evil

That, of course, assumes design.
They eat things, things eat them, energy and resources flow through their links in the old' food webs. They're messy systems, but, each element plays its part, no matter how small or unpleasant.
deanhills
Ankhanu wrote:
deanhills wrote:
Ankhanu wrote:
All organisms contribute, in some way, to the functioning and energy transfer within their ecosystems... Even if we're too narrowly focused to see/appreciate it from our anthropocentric perspectives.
I still don't see any benefit - sort of an "oops" in the design of the Universe. But then it is probably because my thinking is not right. I should not think contribute, but it just is the way it is. For every positive there is a negative. Flies and mosquitoes are some of the negatives.
Twisted Evil

That, of course, assumes design.
They eat things, things eat them, energy and resources flow through their links in the old' food webs. They're messy systems, but, each element plays its part, no matter how small or unpleasant.
OK got it. Great explanation particularly for its simplicity, thanks!
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