It's hard to make the definitive list of what gardening does for you, there are so many things. But in recent weeks, my garden has introduced me to a plethora of insects that I've not seen or noticed before. I'm sure they were always there, but unless you get down and delve right into the heart and soul of your garden, they don't get noticed.
This week, while I was watering at twilight (yes, I know ... not the best time to be doing that), this beautiful caterpillar was poised in all its spiny glory on the 'Dropmore Scarlet' honeysuckle that vines up the arbor entrance to Max's Garden:
I don't yet know what it is exactly, although an entomologist friend thinks it's a moth, perhaps an Io moth (Automeris io). I kind of hope it is and if so, I hope I'm around when the moth emerges, because it would look like this:
Stunning, isn't it? Stinging, too, apparently. Well, not the moth, but the spines on the caterpillar are hollow and connected to poisonous glands. If you get pricked by those spines, it can be as painful as a bee sting and if you're allergic to bee stings or other insect bites, you should consult a physician if you come into contact with them. Guess what? I'm allergic to bee stings. Glad I didn't pet the caterpillar!
I should say that's what the male would look like. The female has brownish-purple forewings. It still has the eye spots, which are a defense feature meant to scare predators away.
I'm continually running into strange insects in the garden, and while as a child I was terrified of most of them, now I just think they're fascinating and I don't shun them. I've learned so much about the clandestine goings-on under the cover of leaves. You'd be shocked, I tell you. But it's what makes the world go 'round. The garden, too.
*Photo of male Io moth - Bev Wigney
*Photo of female Io moth - Scott Henninger
UPDATE: Thanks to bugheart, our spiny caterpillar has been identified as a Smartweed Caterpillar (Acronicta oblinita)!
Saturday, June 23, 2007