One Weird Inchworm

This morning I had a look around my yard after being away for the past week, and I met this fantastic creature on a leaf of one of our cultivated hazelnuts:

Its body was awkwardly contorted, and it took me a lot of tries to get a photo with all (or most) of it in focus.

When it started walking around, I was surprised to see that it was able to unfurl those tendril-like appendages (even harder to get in focus when it was in motion, but these photos will give you some idea).

This strange beast is a horned spanworm (Geometridae: Nematocampa resistaria), something I’ve encountered only a couple of times before, and this one was the largest and fanciest. Here’s a very young one I found on a black cherry leaf on 6/13/2013:

And one found on a woodland sunflower, 6/8/2019:

Although today’s larva was the first I’d seen in my yard, I spotted an adult of this species on the basement ceiling on 7/6/2014:

The caterpillar seems like something that belongs in the tropics, and sure enough, here’s a video showing a Nematocampa larva in action in a Peruvian rainforest:

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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10 Responses to One Weird Inchworm

  1. Hi Charley, What is your ID for this gall I encountered? https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/81601477

  2. Wow, Charley, I had a parallel experience here in Marlboro, VT yesterday afternoon. Photographed this tiny curiosity inching its way across our picnic table (under a large oak) while I was taking a garden break in the shade. Most grateful for your ID, photos, and added info!

  3. mobiwarren says:

    What an amazing series of photos of a most interesting creature! Thanks for sharing!

  4. Carol Senske says:

    This is such fun! Thanks for all the info you give us on the tiny, unappreciated bugs that populate out world:>). I was going to add a picture of a caterpillar on a coneflower that had attached pieces of the flower to its body, but no way to do that.

    Stay cool, and keep posting:>)

    • That would be this one! I don’t think I’ve ever found a larva of that species, though.

      • Carol Senske says:

        100% – thanks:>). If you want one of my images, let me know. Otherwise, no need to respond. I captured it July 25th, 2020. We do have the moth here, I’ve just never seen the larva before – too good at camouflage:>)

  5. John van der Linden says:

    Love it! Never would’ve guessed that it could have control of the “tentacles” like that. Thanks for this!

  6. lifelessons says:

    Your photos are amazing. When I first saw them in a small verison on notifications, I thought they were photos of ginger. Then at times they look like seahorses or half-plant, half-insect.

  7. Judy says:

    If this thing is tropical, will it do damage here?

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