Thursday, November 16, 2006

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly : Brown Caterpillar

I try to live by the motto "Live and let live". That includes the creatures, great and small, who share my garden with me. I don't believe in using pesticides or chemicals to kill anything. Everything has its purpose, and its place.

When it comes to sharing my garden, though, I am curious which one is Good, Bad or just plain "Ugly". :-) Not that the Bad and Ugly don't have a right to share my garden, I just want to know what they're up to when I encounter them. There are some which are known to be Good : earthworms, spiders, bees, dragonflies, ladybugs. Some whose taste for plants puts them in the Bad category : slugs, snails, aphids, grasshoppers, caterpillars. Others, whose intentions are not so obvious : beetles, sow bugs, wasps, stink bugs.

Reading up on any of these can often (not always!) clarify their eating habits, and impact on our garden. However, nothing, in my opinion, beats observation in the field, or over a period of time in a small cage. I have yet to write about the stink bugs which I accidentally brought into the house this summer, and which ended up in our observation for a number of weeks. They were pretty interesting.
Brown Caterpillar in November
A couple of weeks ago, I was cutting down and bundling my perennial sunflower, to set out for the city compost program, when I found 3 small green caterpillars. It was already late in the year, with frost overnight, and not lots of foliage available. So I decided these little guys would have at least as good, likely better, chance surviving indoors with us, in our plastic terrarium. Today, they are more than double the length, and considerably more bulky. (Interestingly, they changed colour to a grey/brown shortly after bringing them indoors.) They are eating through quite a lot of greens, all collected from the garden.

So far, I have found that they like: parsley, salmonberry leaves, butterfly bush leaves. They don't seem to like: red swiss chard (I thought they would!), peony leaves, tarragon. I am hoping they will eventually transform into a butterfly/moth, so we will find out what species we have. My Google Image searches haven't found a match yet.

Maybe one of the kids will be able to bring them into the class, to share the learning experience with their friends. I'll be sure to post, when we learn more.

In the meantime, I stumbled across a pretty interesting site, for those not too squeamish about bugs. Although the focus of the site is on pest management, I found the pest identification section to be fascinating. People post their photos of strange bugs they encounter, and entomologists and other experts provide identification. Be sure to take a look!

10 comments:

ericat said...

I was delighted to find you did not kill the caterpillars. I love the crawlies. They are all welcome in our garden to eat and turn into moths or butterflies. The one insect I find difficult to love is the argentine ant. It is world wide and I dare say a world-wide pest. It carries the plant lice into the crevices where the aloe leaves grow from the stem. rot sets in and the whole plant is lost. Aloes does not wilt it just collapsewhen it is too late. sigh. Now I am goin to read on in you blog. If you happen to have time please visit me and I would be delighted if we could exchange links aloe wilderness

margarita said...

Did you ever find out what kind of caterpillar that was? I think I've found a similar one in my garden, and I've searched to no avail either. I live in San Antonio, Texas, and I found this lovely guy (or girl) among some icicle pansies.
I would love to know what yours turned out to be!

Garden Lily said...

Yes, if you jump ahead to my post "Final Caterpillar Transformation : Grey Moth", you will find the answer: a grey moth which is very common here. I used to think that the smooth skinned caterpillars were butterflies, and the fuzzy ones were moths, but I have now learned something new. So now I know I will toss these ones over the fence (:-)) instead of bringing them inside.

Sandra said...

you have a cutworm it will be a moth they are cool moths

Sandra said...

you have a cutworm it will be a moth they are cool moths

Berrybaby said...

I have a brown caterpillar that is having babies. The weird part about it is that the caterpillar is giving birth to the babies from the side of her body.

Garden Lily said...

Berrybaby - Sorry to hear. Those are not babies, but larva from some parasite insect, such as a wasp. They lay their eggs in the host (caterpillar), to provide live food for the young while growing. I little icky, by our standards.

Jerah said...

Awesome. My friend and I found on just like that and so we're trying to find out what kind it is. We also found a monarch caterpillar making It's crisallas. I'll tell you if I find any thing.

Jerah said...

Hi. I'm back, and I found out that the caterpillars you found are the caterpillars of a Sphinx moth.

Garden Lily said...

Thanks to everyone for your thoughts on what it was... If you check out my post on the resulting moth, you will find it was not anything quite as exciting as you hoped... I don't know the name of the grey moth, but it is very common around here (Vancouver BC).

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