Another Mystery Solved, Sort Of

At the beginning of this month, I reported having found these tied leaves on smooth aster (Symphyotrichum laeve) plants in my backyard.

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On May 27, I had put three samples in jars on my desk to see what might emerge.  On June 9, this caterpillar appeared in one of the jars, apparently because the leaves had deteriorated to the point where they were no longer edible. I put it in a clean jar with a fresh sprig from the same host plant.

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On June 23, I returned home from a week in Maine to find this dead ichneumon wasp in one of the other two jars. I suspect, based on its color pattern, that it is something in the subfamily Pimplinae*.

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Meanwhile, the caterpillar had pupated between a leaf and the side of the jar, without so much as a nibble on the replacement leaves. On June 27, as I was heading out the door for the weekend, I happened to notice a moth fluttering around in that jar. I quickly took a few photos of it and then stuck it in the fridge until I got home this evening. After a few minutes browsing through superfamily Gelechioidea on BugGuide.net, and then a few Google searches for “orange palps,” I arrived at a definite match: Dichomeris ochripalpella (Gelechiidae), whose known hosts include heart-leaved aster (Symphyotrichum cordifolium), hoary aster (Machaeranthera canescens), and Canada goldenrod (Solidago canadesis). Having identified it to species and having determined that I hadn’t discovered anything new, I was able to spare the life of a beautiful moth and have a chance to get some photos of it on its host plant in my yard instead of on a plain white background.

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Apparently I never took a photo of the pupa before the moth emerged, but here’s what it looked like after it was thrust from the silken chamber between the leaf and the glass so that the moth could come out.

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The only problem with all this is that the identity of the Iowa goldenrod leaftier pictured here remains a mystery.  I had wondered when I first found the leaf ties in my backyard whether the two were really the same, since in the Iowa examples there was a silk-lined tube that ran through the whole series of leaves, and this didn’t seem to be the case with the ones in my backyard. Once I saw what the Massachusetts larva looked like, I knew I had something completely different. So I’ll have to keep watching for those goldenrod tubes… it may be that they can only be found in the fall.

* I suspected wrong. Bob Carlson informed me that the wasp belongs to the subfamily Campopleginae, noting that “the only campoplegine that has been reared from this host is Meloboris marginata (Provancher), but this is definitely not that and appears to be Campoplex or Sinophorus.”

About Charley Eiseman

I am a freelance naturalist, endlessly fascinated by the interconnections of all the living and nonliving things around me. I am the lead author of Tracks & Sign of Insects and Other Invertebrates (Stackpole Books, 2010), and continue to collect photographs and information on this subject. These days I am especially drawn to galls, leaf mines, and other plant-insect interactions.
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3 Responses to Another Mystery Solved, Sort Of

  1. Sue Cloutier says:

    Thank you for another very lively and educational post. I am afraid you may hook me into more study of micros… 😉

  2. I have a goldenrod all tied up like this right now. Shall I throw it in a jar and see what comes out?

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