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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.

160709 5-spot Burnet caterpillar  (1)

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.

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