by Carl Strang
Old notes, photos and memories are worth recording and keeping, as they can produce results as new information becomes available to illuminate them. Back in the 1980’s as I surveyed plant-eating insects in Maple Grove and Meacham Grove Forest Preserves, I was able to identify most of the species I encountered, but I tried to get photos of all, and kept notes and records. That research introduced me to the important component community concept. This is the idea that each kind of plant (or each group of plants that use similar chemical defenses) is consumed by a particular suite of insects and other herbivores adapted to defeating those defenses, and this is a helpful way to organize many of the species in a forest or other community. One of the component communities in the study forests was based on Smilacina racemosa, the feathery Solomon’s plume or false Solomon’s seal.
In one of the first posts in this blog I described that component community, and mentioned that I was unable to identify two of its members. Later I found a resource that allowed me to narrow down one of the mystery insects, a sawfly, to genus Phymatocera, either P. offensa or P. similata.
Recently I ran across a photo in the excellent Wagner guide to caterpillars that allowed me to identify the other unknown. It proves to be the flame-shouldered dart (Ochropleura implecta), a moth in the owlet moth family Noctuidae.
As is the case with many noctuids, however, this one has a fairly broad diet across its range, so its presence on this particular plant provides only a little information. Nevertheless, it’s always nice to solve an old mystery.