|What on earth is this? ~ 4 cm tall (pretty damn big by insect standards).|
Inside some of these shelters (2/13), there was an odd larva, apparently a beetle larva, or so I initially thought. Because I am mostly a caterpillar person, I didn't really pay it much mind.
|A really terrible picture, but notice the "antennae". About 2-3 cm long.|
Louie, while processing insect samples one night, noticed that some things were not right about the apparent beetle larva - namely it had prolegs, the fleshy appendages that give caterpillars the appearance of having more than the six legs all insects have. I then looked at the "antennae" and found that they were not segmented, a dead giveaway that this was, in fact, a caterpillar and the "antennae" were actually tentacles (yes, that is the technical term for the fleshy projections that many caterpillars have - monarchs for instance).
|Several of the shelters were torn like this, suggesting predation (by a bird [?]). This was the|
only shelter with lines affixing it at the top - many had lower lines.
I got much more interested after that, and sent along these pictures to Charley Eisemann, a good friend and probably the person on earth with the most knowledge about insect shelters. His blog - linked above - is simply phenomenal and if anyone was going to know the answer, he would. Very quickly (within a few minutes), he had correctly found the family of the moth - Mimallonidae. The amazing part here is that Charley has never seen a member of this family! Mimallonidae is an extremely small family by Lepidoptera standards, ~200 spp. - only 3 of which occur regularly in the US, a fourth is described from the US in Brownsville, TX, but is probably a tropical stray. He even dug pretty deep and found a very likely species identity, Ciccinus packardii - known from Cuba and known to feed on other Psidium species. While I do not know this for sure, it seems that is the most likely candidate as the larva matches very well the few images of Ciccinus online, and less so the other mimallonid genera.
After a bit more searching, we came upon a young larvae feeding in a leaf press on P. longipes, which was not what I expected. This family is known as the "sack-bearers" and I was expecting something more along the lines of a bagworm (Psychidae), instead of a leaf presser.
|A young (2nd, 3rd instar?) larva of this Ciccinus sp. ~ 8mm|
|Spent pupal skin (successful emergence!) inside one of the shelters. You can also see the construction of silk and what|
appears to be finely ground frass (caterpillar poop - a common building material for cats).
|This was the only shelter anchored into leaves (it was vacant, unfortunately). You can see well the frass pellets forming the top of the shelter here.|
|The same shelter, with a Psidium leaf forming one side.|
|perhaps the prettiest of all found. I like the subtle banding.|
Many thanks to Charley, Julia Blyth, John De Benedictus, Louie Yang, Jonah Piova-Scott and Jenn Mckenzie (who was the only one that could find occupied shelters) for help with the identification and finding of these guys.