Meet Henderson Cuthert. He’s a 5-spot Burnet moth caterpillar and, though he will never know it, he has been a brilliant help to me in determining whether all the Burnet moths I keep seeing at my local cemetery are 5-spot Burnets or Narrow-bordered 5-spot Burnets. The two moths are almost impossible to tell apart but the length of the hairs on their caterpillars is a determining factor – short for 5-spot, long for Narrow-bordered 5-spot. And it’s likely that there is a colony of just one species at the cemetery rather than both.
You may well wonder why my little friend is called Henderson Cuthbert (and you may well think me more than a little crazy when I explain). The events were as follows:
Day 1: Caterpillar spotted in front of grave of a husband and wife named Henderson. Photos taken, name filed in memory so I could remember where he was located.
Day 2: I had a sneaky feeling he was getting ready to pupate so returned to see what was happening … and he was, though he had only spun the thinnest of coverings at that stage. The weather was lousy and he looked like getting hammered by a nearby bush so I relocated his piece of grass to the grave opposite. The surname on that headstone was Cuthbert (thus Henderson Cuthbert).
But wait, there’s more …
Day 3: Initially, I thought the pupa had to be examined to determine species, so I returned again and carefully brought Henderson Cuthbert home with me, though I was rather devastated that he might have to sacrifice his life in the name of biological recording.
Day 4: I discovered my mistake, sent photos rather than pupa for identification, and little H.C. gets to live to be a moth. Delight!
Day 5: That’s tomorrow. I will take H.C. back to the cemetery so he can complete his life cycle in peace.
Many thanks to County Recorder Dave Slade for help in identifying Henderson Cuthbert.