Reminder:  You can enlarge any of the photos in this blog by clicking on it.  Click again for a full screen image.

Tonight’s subject reminds me of those children’s toys (and the movies that are based on them) that come in one form but that can be manipulated to assume a totally different shape and function.  I was walking in Sabino Canyon very early this morning when I saw two distinctly different types of caterpillar chowing down on some of the vegetation.  Although they were quite different in appearance, both types of caterpillar shared the common feature of being quite large, more than two inches long, in each case.

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Each caterpillar was quite garishly colored, especially the second one.  It was almost as if they were advertising their presence.  They were munching away quite peacefully on different plants and neither type was being disturbed by predators.  It’s a bit unusual to see creatures in the desert that might be susceptible to being preyed upon displaying themselves so openly, particularly when both of these caterpillar types appear to be so defenseless.  On the other hand, some garishly colored insects use their bold colors and patterns as a way of telling predators that they make bad meals.  Perhaps that was the case here.

Caterpillars are, of course, the immature forms of butterflies and moths and they bear no physical resemblance to what they will look like as adults.   Think of them as walking digestive tracts.  They exist for only one purpose and that is to consume as many calories as possible as quickly as possible so as to store up enough energy to metamorphose into adults.

So, what will these two become if they complete their metamorphosis?  The first caterpillar is the immature form of a White-lined Sphinx Moth, a large and particularly beautiful moth that often shows up in gardens around Tucson this time of year.  The adult seldom alights, hovering like a hummingbird as it drinks nectar from flowers.  It is predominately, if not entirely, nocturnal.  I photographed this one in our back yard just at sunset the other evening.


A pretty amazing transformation, yes?  But, even more amazing in my opinion is what the second caterpillar will become.  It is the immature form of the Pipevine Swallowtail Butterfly, a large butterfly that is quite common around Tucson this time of year.

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All photos taken with a Canon 5Diii and 180 f3.5L Macro Lens.  The first three photos were assisted by a Canon 600EX-RT Speedlite, at ISO 125, “M” setting, and were shot at f13 @ 1/160.  The fourth photo was shot at ISO 200 in available light, “M” setting, at f6.3 @ 1/1250.

4 responses to “Transformers”

  1. Liesl Kii says :

    I thought the caterpillars were pretty cute, then I scrolled down and saw the truly beautiful White-lined Sphinx moth and the Pipevine Swallowtail! You’re right, it’s hard to believe where they came from.

    • stevenkessel says :

      I had to do a bit of research to figure out what kinds of adults these caterpillars would turn into. I was pretty surprised by the Swallowtail caterpillar if only because the caterpillar is deep red in color and the adult is a brilliant metallic blue. Go figure.

  2. Sue says :

    Fascinating! The texture in the sphynx moth shot is incredible.

    • stevenkessel says :

      Thanks, Sue. The wings on the Sphinx Moth are a bit blurred but that’s because it beats them so fast that they appear to be a complete blur to the naked eye. Even a flash with a duration of about 1/2000 of a second won’t freeze them completely.

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