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And I'm not talking about rude people. I'm talking about BUGS. Well, not True Bugs (I love that that is an actual classification - sub order /nerd!) but caterpillars, the final instar stage of the beautiful butterfly/moth.

(Quick mention that I have an entire post dedicated to gardening tips. I don't have time to help people like I used to, so feel free to help yourself! :D [/your friendly neighborhood Master Gardener.]

A few years ago I came out to my garden, HORRIFIED by these massive...creatures that were eating my garden to the ground. Specifically, my tomato plants and my Datura (Angel's Trumpet.) I had to use TWO HANDS to pull these buggers off the plant stems, because they were on tight. I tossed them into my driveway, like I do when I find grubs. I've trained the mockingbirds, you see. When they see me come out side with tools, they line the fence and watch. I toss grubs (typically) up in the air, or on the sidewalk, and they swoop in and get an easy meal. Awesome.

These buggers didn't even hit the ground before there was a fight among the birds. Big meal, is what I'm saying. I thought these were common tomato hornworms - at first glance, they certainly look like them.

But I realized after letting a few live that they weren't. They didn't become gold/brown hawk moths. These particular caterpillars turn into hummingbird hawk-moths. They are BEAUTIFUL.

Well, they eventually are.

Meet: Manduca sexta v. Weird name for an ugly critter. It's closer to a tobacco hornworm instead of a tomato hornworm (stripes versus Vs) but this is a species that I'm having a hard time nailing down the binomial because of the end result. [/further geekery]

This is the plant it is nomming: an Angel's Trumpet. CAUTION: Datura flowers are poisonous, so do not plant them near livestock or toddlers. Toddlers will get very sick to their stomachs. Goats, etc. will die. :( It's in the "witch's weed" category with nightshade and mandrake. It's a weird flower. It's an old-fashioned flower. I am not a huge fan. (The annual that is purple tinged it pretty, but it's an annual. No me gusta.) The seed heads/ fruits are the size of golf balls, covered in spikes, and it spreads prolifically. But I keep two in the garden for these caterpillars. (At first it was to give them something besides my tomatoes to eat. Now that I know what they become, it's to have those in the world.)

This is what they do to the plant. (See the tiny tiny leaves growing? This is a resilient plant. It bounces right back. Which is why I don't care if they eat it up.) That long white tube hanging down is longer than my hand, btw. The flower emerges from that tube, so the whole thing is a good foot and change in length.) ..this is also the neglected part of my garden, so ignore the over-grown grass.

Interestingly enough, the red flower behind the plant? Hummingbird bush. :) From chrysalis to dinner. Nature's cool. :D (These are self-sown, I didn't put them there.)

Here's a bit of scale for you. I was too freaked out to get REALLY close without my gardening gloves (those stingers on their tail hurt!) They are the length of the tip of my thumb to the base at the bottom of my hand.

Really big. o_0

(and the tiny black pellets that look like rabbit droppings on the driveway? That's the caterpillar's poop. THEY ARE THE SIZE OF RABBIT DROPPINGS. Big critter, is what I'm getting at.


This is what they become. (not my picture)

These pretty things look and move just like hummingbirds. The main difference is that these come out at dusk and linger at night. In my garden they go BANANAS for Russian Sage and Mexican Sage. (I'm growing the UN of gardens.) Their proboscis mimics a hummingbird's beak. And you can also tell the difference as the only hummingbirds I have in my garden are ruby throated hummers - they have a green body. (That's the most common in this region.)

Moths are awesome. And so? I let the caterpillars live.

I have a lot of gardening to do, but I'm going to do it away from these things. If only to keep the mockingbirds occupied elsewhere...

(And this is my favorite shot that I've taken of a hummingbird - actual bird, see? - in my garden.) And this is my favorite collection of pics from my garden. :)

ION: PLEASE TELL ME YOU HAVE READ NEAR MISSES, WHICH WAS COMPLETED YESTERDAY. And then please tell me that you left her lovely comments, because that's just the right thing to do after being moved by such a fantastic and beautiful story. :) *cough* NOW ON EBOOK.


( 26 comments — Leave a comment )
Aug. 27th, 2012 03:27 pm (UTC)
I have them in my garden. They are really cool to watch! The cats think they are one of the best shows on window tv.
Aug. 27th, 2012 03:42 pm (UTC)
I have a fennel plant that is about 5 feet tall (and as much around) that was crawling with swallowtail caterpillars. They're all either in crysalis or have recently hatched. THAT is what my kitties are going crazy over. :D
Aug. 27th, 2012 04:32 pm (UTC)
lol awesome. My fennel is in a place where it can be a douchebag to other plants, as is their way. But I do have the swallowtail on them, and on my dill. Lovers of culinary herbs. It's their promise of beauty that keeps them alive!
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Aug. 27th, 2012 03:41 pm (UTC)
Would it make you crazy to know that I haven't filed my nails in months? I think I've rubbed lotion into my hands twice this summer. I FAIL AT BEING A GIRL.

Grubs I pull out bare-handed. They make me mad (oh, how I hate June Bugs!!) and I delight in flinging them to the birds. They're teeny, though. These things? It's like pulling a three year old off their momma's leg.

YOU DROVE IN ONE DAY? That was crazy, lady. I'm sure it felt good to be home, but LAWS, I have done that, and it's crazy making.

AHAHAHAHA! The Mr. and I had a genuine discussion last night about moving to places where we could have a cliff face AND quinoa for End of Times survival. :D
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Aug. 27th, 2012 03:59 pm (UTC)

And hahaha, I did not find it that spicy, but then, I remember making you and Anelith cry at my dinner table with a stuffed poblano, so I clearly have no gauge for heat.
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Aug. 27th, 2012 04:22 pm (UTC)
We went because D was in stitches over the kitsch, and we stayed because they actually had food. And I liked it! (The margaritas weren't anything to write home about, but you know I'm a total snob there.)

I NEED A CHILE RELLENO RIGHT ABOUT NOW. I am completely surrounded by a lack of them, however. :(
Aug. 29th, 2012 06:31 am (UTC)
I once went on a mission to find the perfect chile relleno in L.A. I never did find it, but the research was wonderful! I love them. Once had one stuffed with rice, raisins, and pine nuts. I had some amazing stuffed anaheim chiles a couple of weeks ago, but I forgot to take notes on what they were stuffed with. But they were amazing.

What pretty moths! I remember pulling "tomato worms" (as my grandpa called them) off tomato plants as a child. And finding those black furry caterpilars. As an adult in the city, I've lost touch with bugs. So happy there are crickets in my new neighborhood, though. I love their singing!
Aug. 29th, 2012 12:30 pm (UTC)
The only bugs I don't do well with are the ones with unpredictable, skittery movements like grasshoppers, spiders and...crickets.

Then again, we get waves of them where they cover everything for about 2 weeks as they migrate, so it's not the lovely distant chirp of the Cricket in Times Square.

(But tree frogs? OH HOW I LOVE THEIR SONG!) <3
Aug. 27th, 2012 03:56 pm (UTC)
AAAAAAAAH HORNWORMS. The moths are beautiful, but the poor tomatoes!

I have a plot at a community garden that we're splitting with one of my mom's friends. She pointed out a hornworm and then just casually threw it into the next (unclaimed) plot over.

Fortunately that turned out to be the only one, but aaaah my tomatoes!
Aug. 27th, 2012 04:01 pm (UTC)
No more tomatoes, so no worries! They live on this plant (which is why I keep it, even though it's not the prettiest.)

Check for green, almost translucent "berries" on the underside of the leafs, near the stalk of the plant - those are eggs, and they hatch in 4 days. Squish them (or pull and toss) and cover your plants with netting to keep the moths from coming at night and laying more.

You'll know straight away if you have them - they defoliate FAST.
Aug. 27th, 2012 04:43 pm (UTC)
Moths and caterpillars freak me right the hell out. *shudder*
Aug. 27th, 2012 04:50 pm (UTC)
Moths do? Big pretty ones? :(

Caterpillars I get, though.
Aug. 28th, 2012 01:32 am (UTC)
Yeah, I'm just not a bug person. Ladybugs barely get by, and the big spider that lives under the siding next to my front door only continues to live because I'm a web designer*. And he eats the littler bugs.

I'm just a big ol' scaredy-cat city kid.

* I kind of adopted spiders as a totem animal of sorts, but that doesn't mean I go out of my way to make them my drinking buddies.
Aug. 27th, 2012 07:33 pm (UTC)

just. no.

I'm gonna hide in my house and pretend is not real.

(but the moth is really pretty)
Aug. 27th, 2012 08:48 pm (UTC)

(lol) They ONLY feed on very specific plants, so if you don't have those, you won't see them. :)
Aug. 27th, 2012 09:47 pm (UTC)

Yeah, I live in the Great White North; we don't have as many bugs. Which is excellent, unless you want to travel, cuz then you really don't have any heebiejeebie coping mechanisms... I still have nightmares of all the new and horrifying bugs we came across on my trip to South Carolina ten years ago when I was 16. LOL.

Edited at 2012-08-27 09:47 pm (UTC)
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Aug. 27th, 2012 08:50 pm (UTC)
The moths are AMAZING. I love them. And so? The caterpillars are not tossed like fish to seals.

I REALLY WANT TO DO THAT VERY THING. Also, before Darthanne left this mortal coil, I wanted to train her like a falcon to bring me back rabbits. :) FLY, MY PRETTIES!
Aug. 27th, 2012 08:32 pm (UTC)
I've always wondered what these moths were! They're super cool to watch.

Not so cool is the image of you having to use both hands to pull the caterpillar off a plant *shudders* Yikes!
Aug. 27th, 2012 08:51 pm (UTC)
Aren't they neat-o? Nice, big, pretty, move in that unique hummingbird pattern - the only moths that can are in this genus!
Aug. 27th, 2012 08:54 pm (UTC)
I died of horror. From horror? VERY DEAD NOW. I hate moths and butterflies, they are just FLYING CATERPILLARS.
*runs around flailing*

(You have a very pretty thumb!)
Aug. 27th, 2012 09:39 pm (UTC)
Hahaha! I love the compliment, THANK YOU. :D

They really are horrid beasts, these things. But I have achieved a state of Zen about them out of necessity.
Aug. 28th, 2012 04:04 am (UTC)
The one in which I out myself as a former bird-butterfly-flower nerd
Don't the kids smoke that these days? The plant, not the caterpillar.

Around here we also call Datura moonflower and angel's trumpet usually is Brugmansia.* I've never grown either one since I have a teeny-tiny city yard, so big and shrubby just won't do. (Yet somehow the peonies get a pass because of that ONE WEEK when they're glorious. Even though every year I'm tempted to tear them out. Lazy gardener is lazy.)

Those are some frickin' scary-looking caterpillars...No way would I touch them ungloved. I look forward to seeing photos of their big, ugly cocoons... (Not really. The moths maybe.)

*using botanical names so it looks like I remember what I'm talking about from my days as a bird/garden mag editor
Aug. 28th, 2012 04:14 am (UTC)
Re: The one in which I out myself as a former bird-butterfly-flower nerd
Let me love you for knowing the difference between Brugmansia and Datura!! They are similar with one difference: Brugmansia is annual, and Datura is perennial! :D But they're the same genus - and they're both poisonous. (Brugmansia is the beautiful variety with the purple tipped flowers that I find so lovely.)

PEONIES ALWAYS GET A PASS. *points to icon* they are my MOST FAVORITE of all flowers, and I love all flowers. Except for Chrysanthemums. And Marigolds. Hate those with a passion, I do.

I absolutely will NOT touch them ungloved. They are strong and it's like pulling a living muscle. *shudder* Horrible things. But they turn into such beautiful moths, I let them live. They are close to making a chrysalis! I will def. take pictures when they emerge if I can find them.

(I love that you love these topics! Becoming a Master Gardener - and studying Life Science since I was knee high - was one of the happiest-making aspects of my life yet!) <3
Aug. 28th, 2012 06:46 am (UTC)
I went to look at the pretty moth, scrolled up by accident, and almost cried at that caterpillar. D: Bugs in general terrify me. This is why I refuse to visit my friend in Austin with a gorgeous garden in any season but winter. lol.
Aug. 28th, 2012 08:46 pm (UTC)
OMG. OMG. OMG. OMG. Gargantuan, green, icky, ravenous, very strong, horror inducing bug! *sits in corner, crying, hugging self, rocking* I'm going to have nighttmares!! WAAAAHHH!!! I can't believe you don't run away from that thing, Stoney! I'd never leave the house if it was in MY yard!!
Aug. 28th, 2012 08:55 pm (UTC)

If they were those horrid orb-weaving spiders that want to EAT MY FACE, I wouldn't. They stay put and eat that one plant and I have to LOOK for them.

THEY WILL NOT COME AFTER YOU, I PROMISE. (But blech. They couldn't be pretty at least?)
( 26 comments — Leave a comment )


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