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A Nature Journal

Experience the natural world with east central Illinois master naturalists

The Harvester

Posted by Maddy Kangas -

The words 'carnivorous' and 'butterfly' aren't often used in the same sentence outside of fifties-era grade B monster movies. But a chance encounter in my back yard set off a flurry of research into the lifestyle of this singular species.

Meet Feniseca tarquinius, the Harvester. It is North America's only carnivorous butterfly. With a wingspan averaging between 1-1/8" and 1-ΒΌ", no one need have any concern for their personal safety. It is the caterpillar that gives it its fierce reputation: it dines on wooly aphid eggs. The adult has a milder diet, consisting of the honeydew secretions of aphids and liquids from animal droppings and carrion.

The Harvester butterfly's normal habitat is woodlands, usually near ponds or streams, which does not explain why it made an unexpected appearance in the middle of Champaign. But after seeing my Harvester, I recalled seeing the self-propelled bits of fluff around our yard that we later learned to be wooly aphids. The Harvester may only be doing something quite natural by following the food supply.

If you don't see Harvesters in your own back yard, take a look among the European alders along the stream in Meadowbrook Park where wooly aphids abound. And don't forget your camera.

Teresa DeWitt MN 2013

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