Wednesday, April 23, 2014

The Wages of Moths (and butterflies)...

Every action in the natural world has a consequence.  When a gardener chooses plants specifically to "attract and host" butterflies and moths, here is what they are also asking for.

Caterpillars.  Brilliantly colored eating machines.  Mouths with legs (and in this case a bright yellow tail horn).
Sorry Charlie, but the All-You-Can-Eat Primrose Buffet is out in the back yard!
I can't tell you for certain which sphinx moth the caterpillar pictured above belongs to.  I'm pretty sure it is Hyles lineata, but we get regular visits from all sorts of sphinx moths so this guy, (gal?) could be a close relative.

As these things go, this particular caterpillar out by my front sidewalk was eating its way up to the ripening seed pods on one of a very few pink evening primrose plants growing where I'm trying to get them established.   I've got banks of them out back.

So I did what I could to gently dislodge it from the singleton plant it was eating bare and I moved it out back to the masses of Oenothera speciosa, where the damage will be negligible.

This may sound silly, but later I went out to the area where I'd moved the caterpillar.  I wanted to see if I could find it again and assure myself I'd made the transfer without causing undue harm.  The very first caterpillar I found (photo below) had different markings, so while I knew it wasn't the same one I'd moved, I at least felt reassured I'd picked an area other caterpillar mothers chose for their offspring.

The next candidate looked a lot more likely, but how to know for sure?

Truth be told, with my poor identification skills, there was no way to know for sure. After spotting a third caterpillar in the same bed however, I felt that no matter how my original passenger had fared, the survival of the species was not in any way jeopardized.


Once I started "seeing" these caterpillars did I become a little obsessed with hunting for more?  You already know the answer.


This one is headed back down the stem after a job well done.  You can see why they don't run much risk of attack from behind.

It turns out this patch of primroses is a veritable sphinx moth nursery.  Lullaby and good night!

Postscript:  I wrote and scheduled this post before I discovered another "eater" in the patch - an infestation of four lined leaf bugs.  If you didn't previously read about my decision to let one species feed while attempting to eradicate the other, check the post out here.