Thursday, May 3, 2012

Enter the ravenous hordes.

Variegated fritillary (Euptoieta claudia).
These beautiful creatures really love
violas, and have stripped mine bare!
In a previous post, I wrote about the butterfly brigades conducting maneuvers at our house.  Since then, we have spotted more types of butterflies here, including monarchs and a new one for me:  variegated fritillary.

A little later, a light bulb illuminated the dim recesses of my brain:  all these butterflies are probably laying eggs, and caterpillars will follow.

Sure enough, we started seeing the larval forms of the butterflies. Unfortunately, we don’t really know one caterpillar from the next.  Also, unless you really lean over and peer, you won’t see most caterpillars.

So the little darling and I decided to go on a caterpillar hunt one evening. I grabbed Butterfly Gardening for the South, by Geyata Ajilvsgi, which contained a short list of larval food plants. Smarty that I am, I thought I could look at plants listed there, find caterpillars, take photos and positively identify our visitors. Easy, right?

This is either a monarch (Danaus plexippus)
or a queen (Danaus gilippus); a strategically placed leaf
conceals whether it has the third pair of tentacles of a queen.
It is happily dining on antelope horns, a native milkweed.
Unfortunately for me, the list that I remembered as short was in fact pages and pages long. Instead, we checked some plants we knew we had seen caterpillars munching on, and looked up some others that looked tasty to us. We were wrong on some of those, as indeed, we are not caterpillars and probably don’t have the same taste preferences. (I will note that a caterpillar of some sort really likes the Swiss chard, which I also like. My daughter would note that Swiss chard is disgusting.)

Eight-spotted forester moth larva
(Alypia octomaculata) enjoys
Virginia creeper for dinner.

The genista moth caterpillar
(Uresiphita reversalis) is a pest
 on Texas mountain laurel,
but I saw only a few this time.

These photos portray some of our findings from that evening and other outings. We saw some interesting ones when we had no camera, one of which was white with long hairs and very, very cool. And of course, a number of the caterpillars are moth larvae.
This bristly fellow is possibly
a giant leopard moth
(Hypercompe scribonia).

Our fascination with caterpillars is not universal. I hear and read fellow gardeners lamenting the onslaught of caterpillars decimating precious plants. Our main casualties have been the aforementioned chard, and the Johnny-jump-ups, which have been completely stripped of foliage.

Mystery caterpillar. Any ideas?
For me, the joy of having masses of butterflies in my garden far outweighs the dismay at the damage their larvae can do.  They are welcome here any time

 Favorite spot in the garden:

The lantana are are dry enough that they continue to bloom, and are beautiful next to the artemisia. The Mexican feather grass in the rear self-sowed serendipitously and forms a graceful background, providing movement to the grouping.  Behind the grass is our lovely little native prairie Brazoria.


  1. We have more caterpillars here this year...way more. None look like yours. None as 'pretty' as yours.
    I'm not feeling too kindly toward them. I guess if I knew what they turned into, I'd feel differently. I need to do some research.

    1. I bet you have some of the pretty ones hiding somewhere! I want to find a red admiral caterpillar. We've had so many of those, there must be scads of them crawling around somewhere. The book says they like nettles.

  2. Our Virginia creeper was completely stripped by a caterpillar that my son thinks is a red admiral. We're fine with that, and would be even if we didn't have too much of that particular vine. Now the hornworms on the peppers are another matter entirely. As much as I love the moth they become, I love the peppers more. The chickens love the hornworms.

    1. Hornworms - I don't like those either. Those get squished - which is disgusting. Feeding the chickens would be better!

  3. You have some lovely caterpillars who will turn into beautiful butterflies. Although we have seen lots of butterflies we also have a lot of caterpillars that will only turn into moths and one or two that sting!

    1. I need to warn my daughter about those stinging ones - she is not shy about picking up critters!

  4. Hey, Cous,
    Very cool post. Your pictures are fantastic. You made even the creepiest ones look a bit more cuddly. :-)

  5. Great post, no-one ever shows caterpillars, including me, just the beautiful butterflies. I think the caterpillars are beautiful too, but not when they eat the things I like to eat or look at! I try to have some plants that are the right habitat for caterpillars and chrysalis. Christina

    1. In last year's drought, we had no butterflies, so this year we have been reveling in the bounty! I might feel a little differently if they had been eating different plants . . .