Tuesday, January 5, 2010

The Last Tree Ornament and the Man Who Named It

B  worked in the garage as I packed up the Christmas decorations. Our tree was wonderfully tall again this year and even with a chair, I could not reach the very top to remove the last of the light cord and final ornaments. B came to help with a step ladder and discovered when he thought he was finished, yet one last ornament: a tussock moth caterpillar perched at the top, posing as an angel, I suppose. Or maybe a long, skinny star.


After I shot the picture above, it dropped and disappeared in the tree. We did not find it again until the tree was outside in better light.

It is a beautiful creature. I love the  coloring; the black tips on the long hairs are so striking.


I was having some trouble with the automatic focus and so we transferred the caterpillar to a different branch (that was fir) to take the picture below.


Again, I called on the IFAS rep to help me out with the identification. I had gotten as far as tussock moth. He took it further to a more specific, Dasychira manto. This works for our geographical area, as well as for the fact that their main food source for this larvae is pine. He said that they do not have stinging hairs, but still some folks seem to be sensitive to them. I won’t be touching it.

I noticed on a webpage that a person by the name of Strecker was credited with the name, dated 1900. So since I had not found much about the caterpillar, my mind wandered to who this Strecker person might have been. Below is a summary of what I learned.

Ferdinand Heinrich Hermann Strecker was born in 1836 to German  (no kidding!) parents who had immigrated to Pennsylvania. He began work following in his father’s footsteps as a stonecutter and sculptor. He must have been quite bright as he became fluent in several languages and as a young man, he began to travel extensively, especially in the Americas. As he traveled, he collected butterflies and moths. This became his true passion. His collection became the largest on this side of the Atlantic at its time: 200,000 individuals, including 300 new species and around 150 new subspecies. One of these, it can be supposed was Dasychira manto.  At his death in 1901, some of this collection was sold  to the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago. Strecker also wrote and illustrated  a major work on this topic: Lepidoptera Rhopaloceres and Heteroceres, Indigenous and Exotic, with Descriptions and Colored Illustrations. He illustrated over 300 specimens in the book.

So, thank you, Mr. Strecker, for your many contributions to the study of entomology.


wlhawh said...

What a cool ornament.
I like the bio on the man that named it. He must have been an interesting character.

Dani said...

What a beauty!