Garden Notes, August 15

August 15th, 2003

Very Hungry Caterpillars: This morning I noticed that my Asclepias tuberosa (Butterfly weed) was almost totally defoliated in places, so later on I went out to have a look at it. I found approximately 25-30 strangely tufted caterpillars all over the stems and leaves. So I did what I always do now when I want information – I did a Google search. Found nothing like it. Uh oh, now I have to do things the old-fashioned way – ask somebody or find a book. So off to the library after lunch. Looked at one butterfly book after another and still found nothing. There are very few pictures of caterpillars in butterfly books. I picked up one more tiny book – Peterson’s First Guide to Caterpillars – and finally found a picture of what I had seen in my garden.
Milkweed Tussock Moth Caterpillar.
Now, with a name, I went back to Google and found a site called Identifying Caterpillars, where they have a picture of a Milkweed Tussock Moth Caterpillar. Mine seems to have more colors than theirs, but I still think it is the same thing. We are used to thinking of ugly caterpillars turning into beautiful butterflies, but in this case it is the other way around. The adult Milkweed Tussock Moth is very plain. Well, I was not going to let these cool caterpillars eat my Butterfly weed just to turn into ugly moths, so I scraped up as many as I could into a bucket and went to look for some other milkweeds (real weeds, not garden plants) that they could eat. (The caterpillars are alleged to only eat milkweeds.) I didn’t see any along Charlie’s fence where I expected to, so I dumped them in the weeds by the woods on the other side of the pipeline. Maybe there are milkweeds around there that I didn’t see, but in any case they have a long crawl back to mine.

Weather: mostly sunny, hot and humid yesterday, but poured down rain on Wednesday evening

Chores: deadheaded yesterday

Planting: couldn’t resist a few more 1/2 price plants at Cox Farms, so I bought and potted up a bright red Lantana, a blue-purple Angelonia, and Cuphea ‘Twinkle Pink’. This last one has very tiny flowers, but it supposed to produce them in abundance.

Birds: yesterday, saw goldfinches feeding other goldfinches with seed from the Nuttery feeder, and this morning saw a red-bellied woodpecker feeding another the same way. The birds being fed do not look like baby birds to me, so why is this and is it common behaviour?

Butterflies: no pictures today, but yesterday saw a Monarch here at home, and a Giant Swallowtail while at Cox Farms. Also noticed this morning that a fair number of Asclepias tuberosa have been completely defoliated (more monarch butterflies?), and the oak leaves just above the Buddleja are skeletonized (don’t know what feeds on oaks particularly). Hope they are “nice” larvae and not something nasty like Gypsy Moths.

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