As I always do, I have been posting a bunch of observations on iNaturalist from all over Fishers. Yesterday, I received the following message from a user named Paul C.:
“Hello – enjoying your posts from Fishers Island, a place that I’ve longed to visit, but not an easy day trip! I saw your post of Shining (“winged”) Sumac (Rhus copallinum) this morning–certainly a common coastal thicket plant, but a key place to be looking for a rare variety of late summer caterpillars. Spend the time deeply contemplating them, you won’t be disappointed, especially given Fishers’s near-adjacency to CT and association with the Long Island offshore natural communities, in which this plant plays an important role.”
I responded that I would go look for them the next opportunity I had. He wrote back:
“Of particular interest is the possibility that you might turn up a Regal Moth (Citheronia regalis) larva on winged sumac, especially at this time of year when the smaller instars rest on the surfaces of leaves, or feed along the petiole stems. This species has not been recorded on Fishers (and has been absent from the New England/Hudson Valley area for over half a century) but they do occur on Eastern LI in this habitat. The proximity and isolation of Fishers suggests that a relictual population may occur. You already have Eacles imperialis on Fishers, same story as regalis, but localized to pine-oak barrens. Good luck!”
So, this morning my daughter and I headed out to the Land Trust’s Matty Matthiessen preserve to look for these rare caterpillars. We walked for forty-five minutes but were about to turn back to go meet some friends at the beach when she screamed in delight and pointed to the most amazing, beautiful, big caterpillar I had ever seen in my life. We nearly fainted. It was, amazingly the Regal Moth caterpillar we had been searching for. She and I were astonished. We wanted everyone we knew to come to see this incredible, rare, beautiful creature! So we had to settle for taking a couple of photos and sharing this story with you.
Thank you so much to all the amazing donors who helped preserve these spaces; and the volunteers who help maintain and study them; and the Museum that has managed the whole process. Without all this effort and sacrifice, we wouldn’t share Fishers Island with iconic species like the Regal Moth.