Some Friends for the Big Green Guy

The Big Green Guy ~ photo by Steven Schwartzman

This little marvel munching away on a gaura leaf, clearly unwilling to interrupt his meal in order to tidy up for the camera, has been tentatively identified as the larva of a white-lined sphinx moth (Hyles lineata): the same moth I featured recently on The Task at Hand.

The first time I saw the creature, I dissolved into giggles and immediately dubbed him the Big Green Guy. His vulnerable chubbiness, his tiny, multi-purpose feet, his air of concentration, his apparent lack of embarassment at being revealed as a messy eater: all evoked a response of absurd protectiveness.

Unable to help myself, I emailed his image to friends. Despite mixed reviews, everyone recognized it as a caterpillar, although some less sensitive souls deemed it ‘just’ a caterpillar. “Yes,” I said. “It is a caterpillar. But it’s not just any caterpillar. It’s an Alice in Wonderland, ‘Let me look you in the eye and ask you some questions’ caterpillar.”

Eventually, I purchased and hung a print of the creature on my wall. A neighbor said, “You might as well have mounted a collection of cockroaches.” I considered her judgment unnecessarily harsh, and said so. “To each her own,” she said.

Over the months, I began to wonder why I never had found a caterpillar. I saw monarchs being raised here and there, and occasionally a friend would find a chrysalis hanging from a lawn chair or a shrub, but caterpillars of any sort evaded me.

Then, in late October of this year, I noticed yellow tape along a roadside, attached somewhat casually to stakes. Suspecting that someone might have marked a milkweed patch, I stopped to explore. When I did, I not only found milkweed plants, I found a group of monarch larvae happily feeding: as plump and adorable as the Big Green Guy.

This one appeared to be sampling a stem.

A second was making short work of what seemed to be an especially tasty plant. At the time, I didn’t notice what appears to be an empty chrysalis nearby.

Focused on eating as much milkweed as they could, as quickly as possible, the group clearly wasn’t interested in posing, but they provided a wonderful hour’s entertainment.

In a recent post on his Learn Fun Facts blog, Edmark M. Law offered this quotation from Charles Dickens’s 1850 novel, David Copperfield:

Indifference to all the actions and passions of mankind was not supposed to be such a distinguished quality at that time, I think.
Yet I have known it very fashionable indeed. I have seen it displayed with such success that I have encountered some fine ladies and gentlemen who might as well have been born caterpillars.

Dickens might have sought a different analogy, had he met the Big Green Guy and his friends.

Comments always are welcome.

 

A Mid-Migration Snack

 

While late October’s Maximilian sunflowers clearly appealed to the Gulf fritillary butterflies I featured in a recent post, the migrating monarchs in the same Brazoria County field seemed to prefer the flowers of Salvia azurea, commonly known as blue sage or pitcher sage.

Whether they found the salvia’s nectar more to their taste or simply enjoyed the extra wing-room the plants offered is hard to say, but seeing two beautiful butterfly species feasting on two equally beautiful plants delighted me.

 

Comments always are welcome.

 

Summer’s For Sharing

A pair of great spangled fritillaries (Speyeria cybele) atop a yellow coneflower (Echinacea paradoxa) at Burr Oak Woods conservation area, Blue Springs, Missouri

Echinacea paradoxa, commonly known as yellow coneflower, is the only species in the genus Echinacea to have yellow flowers rather than purple, pink, or lavender: hence, the “paradox” suggested by its name. The genus name is rooted in the Greek word for hedgehog or sea-urchin, echinos; it refers to the spiny center cone which these butterflies are enjoying.

Found primarily in glades and prairies of the Ozark regions of Missouri and Arkansas, its large, daisy-like flowers bloom from June to mid-July, although flowers may appear throughout the summer. This eager little bloom had appeared by May 27, which no doubt delighted the butterflies.

 

Comments always are welcome.