it came from mars

Well, no… actually, it came from Murphys Point Provincial Park. But it looks like it could have come from Mars, or perhaps escaped from a top-secret compound near Roswell.

I found it while hiking in the woods near McParlan House in mid-July 2004. My first impression was that it was a very odd looking creature — the invertebrate world’s answer to Rodin’s “Thinker”, clinging pensively to a small sapling at the edge of the trail. It remained quite motionless while I shot a few photos, but then moved its head around a bit and curled its tail a little tighter. I wasn’t quite sure what it might be — a larva of some sort — but it was so large that I decided to stick it in my Caterpillars gallery on Pbase, for lack of anywhere better to keep it while awaiting an ID. There it languished for quite some time before I noticed a photo of a Cimbex sawfly larva in the “Not Quite Caterpillars” section on page 12 of David L. Wagner’s “Caterpillars of Eastern North America.” At last, I could put a name to this face.

So, why dust off this photo and post it today?

This morning, I posted a photo of a large, black, bee-like insect encountered earlier this week. Turns out that the insect in this morning’s post is some kind of Cimbicidae – probably a species of Cimbex — so its the adult form of a larva much like the weird little yellow creature in the above photo. Oddly enough, I don’t think I ever contemplated what the Cimbex larva might become in later life. Usually, I ponder such things, but I’m quite sure that, in this case, I never gave the question much thought – until today. All of which brings me back around to the point I so often make about the world of insects — that there’s so much to learn, that each time you go out to the field, you almost always come home with some new bit of knowledge and another piece or two for one of the puzzles that you’re working on.

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10 Responses to “it came from mars”

  1. Wayne Says:

    Always nice to make a connection between a puzzle today and a puzzle in the past! And to recall and be able to find the photographic evidence of the past one.

    The larva is a really squishy-looking sort. Do you know what plant it was on, or what plants the Cimbex specialize on?

    Nice photo of the larva, and an especially nice on of the adult in the post below!

  2. Suzanne Says:

    Now that’s YELLOW! They indeed look like they are wearing some super protective gear in a chemical alert.

  3. burning silo Says:

    Wayne – Yes, it ways neat to make that connection – I really like learning the life cycles of insects because they’re often so incredible. Like, who would guess that a very odd yellow larva would turn into a huge, muscular-looking black sawfly? The larva seemed quite a bit like a grub – I got the impression that it would be rubbery, although I didn’t want to disturb it, so I didn’t actually touch it. As you might have noticed, it had red mite larva on it. I have another photo of the opposite side with several mites visible. The Elm Sawfly is the common name for Cimbex americana and it eats elm leaves, but also other tree leaves. This page says that the larvae eat both elm and willow (we have plenty of willow around here, so that may be what these are feeding on). I can’t remember what kind of sapling the larva in the photo was feeding on (usually I make notes on such things, but not always).
    Regarding and recalling past photographic evidence – I depend a lot on my memory and our field notes, but also a lot on keeping a representation of photos in my Pbase galleries. I try to put a date and place on each photo when I post it in a gallery, and with that info, I can immediately find the batch of photos and my field notes pertaining to the shot. I’m quite dependent on Pbase, so I hope they’re around for many more years.

    Suzanne — Yes, it was *very* yellow! In fact, I always thought it reminded me of Tweety Bird — especially in this head-on photo. But you’re right… a protective chemical suit also fits the image! (-:

  4. Wayne Says:

    Yes, I should have seen the “elm sawfly” clue :-)

    Suzanne has the association pegged – that’s exactly what the larva looks like!

  5. Jimmy Says:

    Really cool looking….

  6. robin andrea Says:

    What a fantastic color, like a grapefruit with little eyes and a body. A yellow larval probiscus monkey! I’ve never seen anything so vibrantly yellow, and to think it becomes a large black bee-like insect, what an amazing thing. Great follow-up on a long-term mystery. Wonderfully done.

  7. Duncan Says:

    That’s a beauty Bev, funny, when I looked at the picture of the adult you posted, I immediately thought of our sawfly over here, very similar creature.

  8. burning silo Says:

    Jimmy – Thanks, it is kinda cool, isn’t it! (-:

    RA – Yes, the colour was so vivid. I think that’s partly why I was a bit surprised (closer to “amazed”) when I first noticed it perched on the stick. I’d never seen any kind of insect, especially a large one, of such a bright yellow colour. And yes, so amazing that it turns into something so different as an adult.

    Duncan – Thanks! I’m familiar with quite a lot of sawflies, but the Cimbex are definitely not among the ones I’ve photographed in the past. Such huge winged insects. Really quite striking!

  9. DivaJood Says:

    It looks like its asking you a question — amazing image. Very yellow, very other-worldly.

  10. burning silo Says:

    DivaJood — Yes, perhaps it was like the Sphinx in Greek mythology, and was about to ask a riddle. (-: