On July 13 in the mass of black-eyed susans, I spotted more than a dozen different kinds of insects. The coolest was this one, which I believe is a camouflaged looper inchworm. Its destiny was to turn into a wavy-lined emerald moth.

Black-eyed susan with a small caterpillar at the top of the center disk, with lots of dark brown spikes sticking off its body.

This caterpillar chews off parts of plants and then attaches them to itself as a disguise.

Flower from above, with a caterpillar looped on the left side and several brown clumps attached to its body.

It was concealed so well against the flower’s dark-brown center disk, I’m not sure how I even spotted it at first!

Angled view of a flower, with a small brown clump on the opposite side of the center disk.

Though after I saw it once, I could easily find it again later the same day, and even the next day. (The accumulating quantity of frass also helped locate it.)

Caterpillar with its front end raised above the center disk.

Making its way around the ring of tiny flowers in the center disk of the black-eyed susan:

Side view of the flower, with a caterpillar on the right side, the back half of the center disk's flowers missing.

Almost finished the next day:

Side view again, caterpillar on the left side, no center disk flowers visible, but the caterpillar still appears to be eating.

I saw it crawling around a bit but unfortunately didn’t get to see any of the actual “gluing.”

Watch video on YouTube

Two more videos:

I kept checking back for this inchworm every day for a week and saw it many more times.

Top view of the flower, with the inchworm 'inched' at the top.

Top view showing two thick layers of camouflage:

Only the very top of the caterpillar showing, with two distinct ridges of material on its body.

Sometimes it was resting on a petal, and in these cases it looked nothing like a caterpillar.

Black-eyed susan with a small brown clump on one of the petals on the right, lots of frass around the center disk.

Once I thought it was gone, but then found it again on a nearby flower. This time it looked different after it apparently re-covered itself with new material.

Flower in shade apparently underneath another flower, with the caterpillar 'inched' and some lighter brown or yellow material on its body in addition to the dark brown.

And this time I saw it eating the petals, too.

Caterpillar on a petal that's curving down, reaching out to the edge.

But after that, I didn’t see it anymore. Hopefully it made its way safely to its next stage as a cocoon.

More about camouflaged looper inchworms:

On August 15 I found something in our box elder tree that is definitely not a box elder bug.

black insect perched on a leaf, with a slender abdomen longer than its body protruding from the back and curved under

A quick Google image search (“mn fly with scorpion tail”) identified it as a wasp, American Pelecinid, that looks intimidating but doesn’t have a stinger. It uses its long abdomen to dig into the ground until it finds the grub of a June beetle, and there it lays an egg that will feed on the grub.

It would be nice if it would look for Japanese beetle grubs, too.

Two weeks later, at a seed collection event, one of these insects landed on another volunteer. No one else knew anything about it, and I was so excited to share what I know about this wasp, including that it’s harmless. However, I couldn’t remember its name, and so I looked it up on my Instagram feed.

In my excitement to share, I called it a PELICAN-id wasp. It wasn’t until about five minutes later that I realized it’s probably pronounced “pell-i-SIN-id” instead. (And yes, according to a Google search, that second version is true.) I was embarrassed the rest of the event, and I don’t think I’ll forget the name again.

More about pelecinid wasps

At the end of another cold snap, it’s fun to look back at pictures of the garden in its prime.

Front view of the front yard:

a 15-foot section with 10 different types of white, yellow, and pink blooming native plants

Successes

Obviously, as I’ve documented at length already, black-eyed susans were the star of the show. Blooming from late June to mid-August, taking up a huge spot right in the front of the garden closest to the street, they were amazing.

closeup of one black-eyed susan in the sunshine at the right, with dozens more faded in the background

This is the year that the cup plant “leaped” — more than a dozen new plants grew away from the original cluster.

five one-foot-tall cup plant seedlings, the one on the right in shade

Bonus: these were young enough that they were just my size. (The older ones are several feet above my head, so I usually don’t see these flowers up-close. The ones at the top of this website were taken when I was holding a camera above my head while standing at the top of a ladder.)

closeup of a cup plant flower blooming on the right, with three budding stems on the left

White snakeroot, which was in our backyard before we were here, spread to a new area in the backyard, and also to the front yard:

two-foot section of tiny white flowers

Joe-pye weed seedlings made themselves comfortable between the pine tree and the sidewalk:

two dozen seedlings less than a foot tall, in a relatively small space

Fails

Of course, not everything succeeded.

Trout lily and bluebells didn’t grow, but this was completely my fault. I never got around to planting them, and the little pots blew over in the wind and then something ate them.

two trout lily leaves standing straight up in a square pot with a white plant marker

Blazing star was eaten by rabbits (though I planted more seeds in the fall to try again).

several green stems that have been chewed off at about an inch tall

Vegetables didn’t grow, again. Tried in a different spot this time, too. This might be the last time; we can rely on farmer’s markets and the co-op for our fresh veggies instead.

five white plant markers in a dirt plot next to concrete

Even the path through the garden: it disappeared around the end of June, engulfed by plants that I didn’t have the heart to pull out (or the time to transplant).

three stepping stones surrounded by short and medium green plants

Mixed results

Every year it seems as if one non-native perennial fades or doesn’t survive, and this year it was evening primrose’s turn.

blurry photo of two four-petaled yellow flowers

Allium: perhaps fading like other perennials, perhaps just overshadowed by
bigger, flashier plants around them.

two blooming and one budding purple allium

New plants

From the Landscape Revival plant sale: bishop’s cap, native false indigo, and three kinds of milkweed. (More stories to come another day about milkweed.)

five small potted plants lined up next to a retaining wall

Lobelia from a friend. This is one of my favorite photos of the year because I have no idea how I managed to get the tussock moth caterpillar to photobomb this flower. One day I was transporting caterpillars from the backyard (which ran out of milkweed) to the front yard (which had plenty) and apparently chose that moment to stop and take a picture of a lobelia!

purple flower in focus on the right, with a blurry finger holding an orange-and-black caterpillar in the top left corner

Donated plants

Purple giant hyssop, yellow coneflower, joe-pye weed, and pearly everlasting, dug up from our front yard to donate to a Wild Ones fundraiser:

cardboard fruit box holding about a dozen small potted plants

Surprise!

Squash plant that volunteered in the flower garden — though it waited until October, so no actual squash were produced:

short squash vine with one yellow flower, viewed from above

Bishop’s cap, which I bought in June and normally blooms in the spring, apparently didn’t want to wait for next year, and bloomed in its original pot in July:

closeup of the top of a narrow stem, with four white star-shaped flowers and six buds

New bugs

Peachtree borer moth:

black moth with a narrow orange band around its abdomen

I wasn’t sure how to describe this one on Google to find its name, so I posted it on Instagram and asked for help. Within minutes, I got an answer: brown marmorated stink bug nymph.

roundish reddish bug with darker red stripes and black spots around the edges, facing downward on a milkweed leaf

(More posts to come about new bugs.)

Fun photos

Culver’s root with a stalk that split into six:

green plant with one stem that became six

Four-petaled spiderwort:

purple flower that usually has three petals, but with four

Rabbit caught in the act:

rabbit with its body facing away but turned back toward the camera, visible in the space between plants

Pretty American Lady butterfly next to a faded coreopsis:

black-and-orange butterfly with big circles on its wings, with its proboscis in a yellow flower

In closing

Here’s what I wrote on Instagram in June, on my first master naturalist anniversary. I think it summarizes my year’s exploration nicely.

Today is my master naturalist birthday: one year ago I earned a certificate for completing the prairies and potholes course. Taking this class was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made because it reinforced my growing interest in the natural world. Since then I’ve learned a lot and committed to environmental stewardship through events such as invasive species removal, wildflower planting, and seed collecting. But my favorite place to explore remains my own front yard.

large monarch caterpillar eating common milkweed buds

Previous garden recaps