14 September 2010

Garden "Pests"

I had hoped to be able to post about the St. Joseph County Parks - Spicer Lake BioBlitz that took place this past Saturday, but because the rain never let up from the time we began until about 6 PM, I never even took my camera out of its case.

Instead, here are a couple of "pests" that I found in our garden when picking vegetables this past Friday. Personally, I enjoy having these "pests" around, and considering how tired Lindsay is of trying to come up with new ways to prepare and preserve tomatoes and peppers, she is probably pretty happy to have them as well.

This is the caterpillar of a Black Swallowtail (Papilio polyxenes) butterfly, feeding on the leaves of our carrot (Daucus carota) plants. Black Swallowtails not only thrive in areas of agriculture, but they are even said to be declining in the northeastern United States, where former agricultural areas are being converted to forests. In addition to carrots, Black Swallowtail larvae can be found feeding on other members of the carrot family (Apiaceae), as well as members of the citrus family (Rutaceae).

I have only ever seen these caterpillars with this coloration of lime green with black bands, each with six yellow spots, but apparently the green coloration can be replaced by white on some specimens.

Another "pest" that I found was munching on our jalapeno pepper (Capsicum sp.) plants. This is the larval stage of the Carolina Sphinx (Manduca sexta) moth, also known as a Tobacco Hornworm. This is one enormous caterpillar, reaching a length of 9 cm! As the common name implies, Tobacco Hornworms are often found devastating tobacco (Nicotiana tabacum) crops, but just as commonly they are found on tomatoes (Solanum lycopersicon), peppers (Capsicum spp.), and other members of the nighshade family (Solanaceae). Because of their attraction to tomato plants, they are often referred to as Tomato Hornworms, but this common name is said to refer to a different species, the caterpillar of the Five-spotted Hawk Moth (Manduca quinquemaculata).

Before I found this caterpillar, which in spite of its size blends in very well, I noticed that the fence around our garden had been broken in one spot, coincidentally near our pepper plants. Considering that Tobacco Hornworms are voracious eaters, I can't help but wonder now if it didn't eat through our fence to get to the peppers!


Lindsay Namestnik said...

I know to most people they are pests but I think they are awesome and I will gladly share my garden with them. That hornworm is fierce looking, college's should consider that as a mascot.

Scott Namestnik said...

Glad you agree, Lindsay.

Yes, the hornworm would be a great mascot for a sports team, up there with the University of Arkansas at Monticello Boll Weevils... The Tennessee Tobacco Hornworms has an interesting ring to it.