Saturday, June 23, 2007

One Thing Gardening Does For You

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)!


RUTH said...

I've found a whole new world in my garden especially when taking macro shots. Sometimes I go out with my camera, it's pitch black and i can't see a thing....the camera with the flash on sees all though...that's when I catch the snails on my lettuces!!! LOL

Alyssa said...

What a beautiful moth. That male is sure a lot fancier than the female.

Maybe you could raise the caterpillar in a large container and then watch it hatch from the cocoon. That would be so neat.

Watching the little tenents of our gardens is endlessly fascinating.

Pretty post - thank you.

MrBrownThumb said...

You know when I was a kid I hated bugs and am ashamed to admit we found a praying mantis in an empty lot one day and we set him on fire with a can of aerosol hairspray and a bic lighter.

What I wouldn't give to see one now as an adult wandering in the garden.

kate said...

Now I am glad to see a different caterpillar than the armies of tent caterpillars which have been eating all manner of trees and shrubs. If they turned into beautiful moths, then I could forgive them their bad table manners. But they turn into nondescript moths which is too bad. Otherwise we would have an incredible collection of moths hovering in the garden soon.

That's what I love about spending time watering the garden ... insects, birds, my brown lab following and plopping himself down beside me, and the scents of the evening garden.

bugheart said...

hi there!
i am pretty sure
your caterpillar
is not
automeris io-
they have
more pronounced
and are
vibrant green...
i think
what you
have is a
acronicta oblinita
(smartweed caterpillar).

Iowa Gardening Woman said...

I love the moths and butterflies the most! I had the most wonderful opportunity to see a Cecropia Moth up close two days in a row, the first day at work and the second day at home in my own garden, what a thrill it was!

Kylee Baumle said...

bugheart, thank you so much for the correction on the ID! It absolutely does look like the Smartweed caterpillar. The moth it turns into sure is plain, isn't it?

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