So many hairy babies….


They hatched out just a couple of days ago, but they’re already noticeably larger. They will grow until their skins can’t expand any further, and then shed. On the bottom right corner, you can see the silk strands that they lay down constantly – these function as a safety line, if one of them falls off a branch.

Am I blue…. ?


These silkworm eggs are starting to turn “blue” – the developing worm inside separates from the shell, and they get a hazy lighter color. About half the eggs in this photo are blue – the others are likely nonviable.


If you look really close, and you’ve got a good magnification on your camera or hand lens, you can see the caterpillar curled inside the egg.



These have reached the head pigmentation stage; you can see the little dark heads. They’ll hatch within another day or two.


Calleta hatchlings

The Calleta caterpillars (Eupackardia calleta) started hatching today. These beautiful moths are native to much of the American southwest. I am raising them mostly for the fun of it – they do produce silk, but it’s not one I’ve made into yarn yet.


This tiny hatchling is eating cenizo – Leucophyllum frutescens – which many of my gardening friends call purple sage. Not related to the Salvia sages at all.

The caterpillars are covered with tiny bristles called scoli; these aren’t spiky to the touch for a person, but they would be get in the way if you were, say, a spider trying to put the bite on a caterpillar.



The insides of the hatched eggshells are beautiful – like rosy opals. The colors remind me of Maxfield Parrish.


Silkworm Season is beginning!

Every year it happens… the leaves pop out on the local mulberry trees, and then it’s time to start the silkworms.

10153303_10207606446412881_4991094600487356790_nThe Ancient Wisdom version says that you should start the silkworm eggs when the leaves are the size of a mouse’s ear. We don’t have the kind of long, slow spring where that lasts for long – so by the time I get a chance to snap a picture, they’re almost the size of a dime. This is a feral white mulberry tree in my yard in south Dallas.


These are the eggs. You can tell from the size of the fibers in the torn paper towel edges, these are pretty tiny. They’re about the size of poppy seeds.


When you get really, really close up, you can see the texture of the egg shell. The forming caterpillar embryos inside are in a state of rest called diapause; it allows them to survive through winter temperatures without dying, and they begin to metabolize and develop once they warm up in the spring.

Mimicry, and seeing life in macro

I’ve enjoyed nature all my life. I was that kid, tromping in the woods, turning over logs to marvel at the life beneath, watching the patterns of light and shadow on leaves to see the hidden snake. Getting a camera with a good macro, and learning to take close-up shots, has taught me to look even closer – now, even without the camera, I see all kinds of neat things happening that I never even knew were there.  Evolution is amazing, and the diversity of life is profound and humbling.

This house has been a revelation as well – our yard backs up to a wooded creek, and we garden organically, so there’s an abundance of life that I think would be missing in a lot of city dwellings. I’ve seen things here that I had previously only heard of, and many that I never even knew existed. We’ve got mantis flies, and tortoise beetles, and cuckoo wasps, and thread snakes. I’ve found several things where I’ve looked them up and read “Not much is known about their diet or habits” and just had to smile and shake my head at the amazing depth and complexity of life.

I found this cool tiny critter one night, luring moths to a sheet with a black light to see what would show up. It’s called Petrophila jaliscalis, less than half an inch long, and my eye was caught by the beautiful spangles on its rear wings. I couldn’t find anything like it, searching on the web. I put a request on (an amazing resource, if you’re trying to ID something weird) and they pinned it down. This odd genus lives as caterpillars on stones in running water – creeks, streams, rivers.

What I didn’t find out until a lot more recently – there’s a very cool reason for the spangles on its wings. This whole genus mimics jumping spiders to help scare off predators. I found a jumping spider in the kitchen one afternoon, and got the macro lens and the ring light and shot some pictures. I’m still working on getting a firm ID for this spider, asking some smart folks on a Facebook spiders group; so far, it’s looking like Maevia inclemens.

Keep in mind, this whole spider is about the size of a pencil eraser – but with a macro lens, you can see it in magnifying-glass detail.

Here, it’s on the border where the white trim meets the yellow-painted wall… you get a sense of scale from the bubbles in the paint.

and then you adjust the lighting, and you shoot, and you shoot, and you find where the damned thing ran around the corner of the wall, and you move, and you shoot some more, and then you crop, and you adjust… and you get the portrait. I’m not a trained photographer, and I know there’s a lot that I could have done better – but I’m proud of this one.

It wasn’t until I saw an article about a spider-mimicry in metalmark moths, that I thought, “Hmm… those metallic marks look like the ones I saw on the little guy on the sheet!” and started looking into it.

And it all came together. I still want to get a better angled shot, so you can really see the “eye” and “leg” markings in the same positions. If you squint your eyes at the moth, you can definitely see the spider – and if you were some hungry bug, you might think twice. This is one of a dozen or more examples of Batesian mimicry I’ve seen in the yard; we’ve got ant-spiders, and bee-flies, and so many scary eyes.

Another cool link, showing the amazing underwater caterpillar in its *SILKEN CASE* (see, you knew there was going to be silk involved) –