Thursday, February 13, 2014

Caterpillar talk, Worthington, February 20

Everyone likes butterflies such as this beautiful dime-sized Juniper Hairstreak, obligingly posing on your narrator's finger. Far too little thought is given to their caterpillars, however. If you would like to learn more about the magical world of butterflies, moths, and especially their caterpillar stages, come on down to the Worthington Garden Club's meeting at 7 pm next Thursday. It's free, and will take place at the Griswold Center, 777 North High Street in Worthington. I will endeavor to do justice to these most important of animals, in pictures and words. Following is a description of the talk:

Growing Caterpillars: A Tale of Birds, Plants, and Conservation

There are 3,000 or more species of moths in Ohio, and nearly 140 butterfly species. The conspicuous winged adults are the often short-lived finale of a four stage life cycle: egg, caterpillar, pupa, and adult. It’s caterpillars that make much of the natural world go around, and countless billions become food for other organisms. Without vegetation-eating caterpillars, most songbirds would go extinct, plant diversity would plummet, and our forests would fall silent. The world of caterpillars is beautifully ornate, full of trickery and chemical warfare, and both jaw-droppingly amazing and gruesomely stunning.

A Red-humped Oakworm caterpillar displays on, what else, an oak leaf. It is one of legions of caterpillars specialized for feeding on oaks.

Looking rather waspish is this Grapeleaf Skeletonizer moth. Resembling something that stings can be an effective ploy; maybe the bad guys will leave you alone.

These are the caterpillars of the aforementioned wasp mimic skeletonizer moth. In a deadly irony, they are being parasitized by tiny wasps (look closely). If you are a caterpillar, your fate is not promising. Probably 99% of them never make it to the winged stage. It has to be this way, though. Caterpillars are Nature's tube steaks, and without them we could kiss moth of our songbirds goodbye, along with many other organisms.

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