Morning Glory Prominent
Fall is here, and leaves are changing color, turning brown, and dropping off the trees. But not all leaves are created equal. What looks at first glance like the dying edge of a leaf is in fact the caterpillar of the morning glory prominent (Schizura ipomoeae). Prominents are moths in the family Notodontidae, and many of their caterpillars have bizarre forms with odd projections and coloration. They feed on the mature leaves of trees, completely exposed, and so need this sort of camouflage to protect themselves from feasting birds.
In spite of the common name, which is derived from the Latin species name based on the morning glory genus, this caterpillar is not associated with the vine at all. Instead it feeds on any number of trees, including oak, maple, and elm. While the general markings of this larva are always similar, the actual colors vary considerably. During warmer weather, they are often light tan with a bright green collar. This particular individual was photographed in November and has a much darker color, while the area behind the head matches the fading green color of the leaves.
The adult moth is not especially spectacular. It is of medium size, brown and rather fuzzy, with a checkered pattern on the edges of the front wings, and looks very much like a number of other species in the same family.