Excerpts from Jim Conrad's
Naturalist Newsletter


from the May 25, 2014 Newsletter issued from the Frio Canyon Nature Education Center in the valley of the Dry Frio River in northern Uvalde County, southwestern Texas, on the southern border of the Edwards Plateau, USA

On our limestone hills one of the most common bushes or small trees is a Bean Family member with locust-like leaves and producing very eye-catching flowers and pods. Local people call it Mountain Laurel but outside the area it's better known as Mescalbean. Our Mescalbean page is at http://www.backyardnature.net/n/w/sophora.htm.

The other day a Mescalbean bush turned up with the newly deployed leaves at the tip of its branches nibbled away by some kind of critter, as shown below:

leaves of Mescalbean, Sophora secundiflora, eaten by Sophora Worm, URESIPHITA REVERSALIS

In that picture some scraps of silk webbing can be seen, looking like a halfhearted effort made by tent caterpillars. Looking for caterpillars beneath leaves in the vicinity, sure enough some smallish, fuzzy caterpillars turned up looking a little like tent caterpillars, as shown at the top of this page.

Last week we looked at how volunteer identifier Bea in Ontario uses Bugguide.Net to figure out insect names. This week when I told Bea that the unknown caterpillar was eating Mescalbean, Sophora secundiflora, she tried a different technique: She did an image search on Google using the keywords "caterpillar Sophora secundiflora" ... and instantly got a direct hit.

Our Mescalbean-eating caterpillar is URESIPHITA REVERSALIS. In North America the caterpillar often is called the Sophora Worm, though it's unfortunate that a fuzzy caterpillar is called a worm. At least the Sophora part is exactly right. In books the small, brown, triangular, plain-looking moth the caterpillar produces usually is called the Genista Broom Moth, which also is unfortunate, since Genista Broom is an Old World plant, but Uresiphita reersalis is a native American insect occurring coast to coast from southern Canada through the US into northern Mexico.

Sophora Worm feeds mainly on Bean Family members such as acacias, lupines, and Genista Broom (invasive in parts of North America), plus it's been noticed on Crapemyrtle and Honeysuckle.

Despite Sophora Worms looking and behaving somewhat like tent caterpillars, they're in entirely different families, so they're not too closely related.