At last weekend's Midwest Native Plant Conference, we had some outstanding field trips, including what may have been the world's largest singing insect walk. I'm going to post a bit more about that later.
We were indeed fortunate to have had a host of experts come to speak about many facets of native plants, including the intimate linkages between insects and plants. And on some of the field trips, we were able to observe many cool and interesting insects firsthand. A few of the coolest cats follow.
While strolling the grounds of MEEC, our conference facility, on the pre-conference field trip, we were delighted to encounter several of these lime-green beauties. This is the caterpillar of the Black Swallowtail, a striking yellow and black butterfly of open habitats such as meadows and fields. The ones that we encountered at MEEC were feeding on Queen Anne's Lace, Daucus carota, a non-native plant. Black Swallowtail larvae have managed to adapt well to plants that aren't indigenous, and are often found in gardens feeding on various members of the parsley family.
We are amused by this strange behavior, and other than crinkling our noses at the foul scent of the osmeteria, are hardly intimidated. But, imagine if you were a tiny chickadee or perhaps a parasitoid wasp, investigating the caterpillar as a potential meal. When the thing lunged into your face with those stink-sticks, you'd probably get the heck out of there and look for easier pickings.
Click on the photo to enlarge it. The "face" of the caterpillar suggests some sort of dog, with nose and eyes, and tiny paws below.
These caterpillars roll a leaf over them and secure it with silken strands during the day. The leaf shelters make for great hiding spots, and help keep them from the always vigilant eyes of myriad caterpillar-hunting predators.
Probably too many gardeners detest caterpillars and the perceived damage that they cause. But in most cases, the cats probably don't cause visible damage that is readily apparent. To do so wouldn't be to their advantage, and that's probably why this one had moved to a different part of the plant the following night.
If they were to routinely create massive zones of concentrated defoliation, predators would probably soon learn to associate the damage with the presence of tasty little tubes of protein. Birds, especially, would then zero in on these sites and carefully search out the caterpillars hiding nearby.