Velour Caterpillar

After the big storm of Wednesday night, the students found an impressive caterpillar on the playground retaining wall Thursday. Over three inches long, it looked like it had been sewn of dusty gray velour exactly the color of the nozzle attachments for my mother's 1950s cylinder vacuum cleaner. Down each side was a soft gray fringe that could have been the mustache of the Muppets' Swedish chef. Never imagining the caterpillar would be easy to find again on Friday, I didn't take my camera. It had only crawled two feet.

The search for identification led me to two very useful sites. The first is Discover Life, which can be used to ID all sorts of living things. The search function of the IDnature section let me choose up to four characteristics. It took me awhile because I didn't know that the "fringe" is very aptly called "lashes". The only close photo was the larva of the American lappet moth. Our playground visitor had two bands of dull, rusty gold, instead of the bright red bands.

Phyllodesma americana, larva Dave Wagner / Discover Life

Once I had a name, I was able to find this photo by Jo McGavin on BugGuide.net, another useful site. You have to look at it awhile to realize what you're seeing!

I can't publish John Davis' photo of the adult stage lappet moth, but Phyllodesma americana has some nifty camouflage tricks. Davis is a retired U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologist. He has a Flickr gallery of excellent moth photos, and contributes to the Digital Guide to Moth Identification's North American Moth Photographers Group.

I hope we can all identify the Swedish chef making chocolate mousse!

Mom's vacuum was silver gray and just right for little kids to ride. It is not as easy to identify as the caterpillar, although I spent too much time trying. Her well-used copy of Guide to Easier Living taught her that vacuuming was a once-a-week task to be done on Thursday. I'm sure she selected it with this explanation in mind:

The choice of model--whether it's upright, canister, or cylinder--depends on the amount of carpeted area versus hard-surface floor area in the home. The two latter types have swivel arrangements that permit one to reach all parts of a room from one central position. For large carpeted areas, the upright is preferred because motor-driven brushes get deeply embedded dirt out of the rug fibers.

From the Great Achievements page of the National Academy of Engineering:

In 1907 an American inventor named James Murray Spangler created a vacuum cleaner that basically consisted of an old-fashioned carpet sweeper to raise dust and a vertical shaft electric motor to power a fan and blow the dust into an external bag. Manufactured by the Hoover Company, which bought the patent in 1908, it was hugely successful, especially after Hoover in 1926 extended the fan motor's power to a rotating brush that "beats as it sweeps as it cleans." Meanwhile, the Electrolux company in Sweden grabbed a sizable share of the market with a very different design for a vacuum cleaner—a small rolling cylinder that had a long hose and a variety of nozzles to clean furniture and curtains as well as carpets.

Our vacuum was similar to the Electrolux at left, but not quite the same in my memory. For one thing, no kids are riding on it.

Links cited in this post:
http://www.discoverlife.org/nh/ DiscoverLife.org

http://pick4.pick.uga.edu/mp/20q? DiscoverLife's ID Nature Guides

http://pick4.pick.uga.edu/mp/20q?guide=Caterpillars DiscoverLife's caterpillar search page

http://pick4.pick.uga.edu/mp/20q?guide=Caterpillars © Dave Wagner, 2002 photo

http://bugguide.net/node/view/63153 BugGuide.net caterpillar photo by Jo McGavin

http://bugguide.net/node/view/106402 BugGuide.net moth photo by John Davis

http://www.flickr.com/photos/johns_pics John Davis' gallery of impressive nature photos

http://mothphotographersgroup.msstate.edu/MainMenu.shtml Digital Guide to Moth Identification

http://www.electrolux.com/node15.aspx Electrolux history

http://www.greatachievements.org/?id=3775 Great Achievements history of modern appliances

http://anchormama.blogspot.com/2006/03/good-design-and-easier-living.html Thoughts on the Guide to Easier Living

© 2007 Nancy L. Ruder

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