An Unseen Life (Cutworm, Noctuinae?)

light brown chubby caterpillar curled into thistly ground cover

A cutworm (Noctuinae) [tentative ID] squirms in the grass. Rove beetle attack 1.

It’s funny how, on a quiet summer’s day, when the only thing to really speak of is the sound of a gentle breeze and the occasional passing car over the peaceful drone of just another day that even the harsh wail of a lawn mower in the distance can’t help but be utterly consumed, that a little rustle, a little splash of light brown or dull yellow in the green plane of what passes for a backyard grabs your attention. It twitches and flicks; it is odd and breaks the reverie of the larger world, but it’s there, always has been, probably always will be. It’s there and it will be soon forgotten if it isn’t never remembered, and either way, it doesn’t really matter. There’s the big world, there’s the small world; they are very different when they are not all the same, and they (or it) are always happening whether we can reconcile them or not.

***

I happened to be seated on the grass, next to my lounging dog, taking a break from photographing at my favorite weed patch, when I saw this unusual caterpillar. The species was commonplace and dull enough, but it was moving in an odd, twitchy way. The ground cover being of thyme and various grass and other plants, it makes for almost like a micro-forest; being above the micro-canopy, it took a while to finally see the rove beetle attacking the caterpillar.

black beetle attacking with bite into top of chubby caterpillar

A rove beetle (Staphylinidae) attacks a caterpillar. 2.

red-tipped abdoment of beetle in air over outstretched belly up caterpillar

A rove beetle (Staphylinidae) attacks a caterpillar. 3.

caterpillar turned over on its back while red-tipped beetle attacks beneath twigs

A rove beetle (Staphylinidae) attacks a caterpillar. 4.

It appeared to bite savagely into the caterpillar. It was a bit of tiny horror, but such is the way of life; I figured it was a battle predator and prey, and so it goes. Or so I thought. Honestly other than the apparent violence I’m not sure what was going on, because after a while of observing and photographing this one-sided fight, the rove beetle simply stopped, walked off, in a suddenly much calmer manner, under the grass cover and left the caterpillar for dead. It seemed like a waste of a kill, but perhaps it was a fatal case of trespassing? I can’t really say, but it was a sad thing to witness. I poked the caterpillar which still seemed to be alive, but there wasn’t much to be done for it. I looked up and around the yard and nothing had changed; the sun was still bright, a light occasional breeze blowing, the gentle summer drone still humming. So it goes.

(Black and white versions below.)

light brown chubby caterpillar curled into thistly ground cover

A cutworm (Noctuinae) [tentative ID] squirms in the grass. (Black and white version) Rove beetle attack 1.

red-tipped abdoment of beetle in air over outstretched belly up caterpillar

A rove beetle (Staphylinidae) attacks a caterpillar. (Black and white version) 3.

caterpillar turned over on its back while red-tipped beetle attacks beneath twigs

A rove beetle (Staphylinidae) attacks a caterpillar. (Black and white version) 4.

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