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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.



But!

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.

Comments

(Deleted comment)
stoney321
Aug. 27th, 2012 03:59 pm (UTC)
THAT IS WHERE DOVIL AND I ATE ON OUR ROAD TRIP!!!!!!

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.
(Deleted comment)
stoney321
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. :(
pushplaytobegin
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!
stoney321
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

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Reading this? I'm just curious. Because that's really detail-oriented of you. Feel free to stop reading. But you can see that there's more here, so are you going to keep reading? Really? That's pretty dedicated. I'm impressed. No, really. I'm not being sarcastic, why do you get like that? See, this is the problem I have with your mother - yes. YES. I'm going there. It's time we put all of our cards on the table.

I love you, why are you doing this? After all we've been through? You don't have to be like this. You know, still reading. You could be baking a pie. And then sharing it with me.

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