Welcome to austinagrodolce … My family and I garden with more intention and enthusiasm than allocated budget or overall design plan. It shows. Wildlife populations don't seem to notice our lack of cohesive design, they just like the native plants here. It seems by growing local we've thrown out a welcome mat. Occasionally, we're surprised at who (and what) shows up.

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.


Tina said...

I'm impressed with your identification skills. You have more sphinx moths than I do;I see them, well, one or two, in my gardens, but I don't have that many. My little girl cat sees them too and is entranced. I usually take her in the house at that point. I'm getting black swallowtail butterflies on my fennel now--big, fat and happy! Those photos are just lovely, Deb--great job!

TexasDeb said...

Thanks for dropping in Tina. I've been seeing more sphinx moths this year than ever before, and so similarly spotted more caterpillars than usual though now they seem to have disappeared. Off doing their underground pupating I suppose.

I haven't seen so many swallowtails on my fennel - it has been slow to come back from cold damage so may not be attracting much action this year. Your spaces and mine are balancing out!

Debra said...

These are gorgeous shots. The first time I saw a sphinx moth I couldn't believe my eyes. It was hovering in a hanging basket of petunias like a tiny bird ... only it wasn't. haha I practically ran to the nearest computer to find out what the heck it could be.

TexasDeb said...

Thanks Debra. I'm seeing a lot more sphinx moth action in my garden beds this year. I think they are stunning and they seem to like the primroses as much as I do. I'm glad I grabbed shots of the caterpillars that day. They've already moved underground to pupate.

Cat said...

We had a bunch of the sphinx moths on the columbine last week but I haven't seen them so much in the last few days. Now the big, fat bumblebees (how's that for identification) are loving them along with the gulf coast penstemon. No cats yet...You've got some great shots of them.

TexasDeb said...

Cat: Big fat bumblebees works for me. Much of my penstemon became a deer snack recently. Bees won't get to enjoy them but I suppose the deer enjoying them has to count for something!