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Critter Spotlight ? Maybe: Noctuidae

I woke up this morning with every intention to write about the caterpillar pictured below. On a hike in the Big River Management Area, my oldest daughter discovered this little beauty. We typed it into our iNaturalist account and it came up as a possible owlet moth caterpillar. However, after several hours of search through a few manuals and on the internet, none of the caterpillar pictures we found looked even close to ours! So, it is still a bit of a mystery.

There are about 20,000 species in the superfamily Noctuidae, 2,900 of whom live in North America. Due to the extensive number of species, there is a great possibility that this is the caterpillar of one of them.

Noctuidae adults, the moths, are mostly gray or brown in color with lines or dots on their wings. Some can be very brightly colored. These adults are primarily nocturnal, coming out at night to feed on plant nectar.

The larva, or caterpillars, can be found crawling about during the day. They feed on plant foliage, dead leaves, lichen, and fungi. Although caterpillars are often considered pests because they forage on tree leaves and other plants thereby damaging them, these critters can also be very helpful in ridding the forest of decaying items.

Depending on the species, caterpillars in the Noctuidae family either create hard cocoons and bury themselves in soil or hide in plant cavities, or they create silk cocoons. The amount of days for transformation also varies from species to species.

If you are interested in learning more about the various butterfly and moth species in Rhode Island, please check out this great website

If you love to explore outdoors the way that my family does, you may also be interested in signing up for an iNaturalist account. If you would like to do so, you can visit

Once you have an account, you can upload any pictures of wildlife or plants that you find and the site will help you identify them. It's also a great way to keep a record of all your explorations.

I hope that you are all enjoying the last few weeks of summer. I understand that most of us are still a bit uncertain as to what the school year will look like. Just know that Mrs. Morissette will continue to be here through posts and email if you would like to share your explorations, ask any critter or watershed related questions, or even just to chat! I miss you all very much.

Happy Exploring,

Mrs. Morissette

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