Monday, September 21, 2009

Roll With It

If any of my neighbors ever watch me take an afternoon stroll in the garden, I'm sure they must often get a good laugh out of my behavior. Especially on days like today, when I make a new discovery and do the Dance of Joy to celebrate.

So what was it that made me dance like a Myposian* today? I've got canna skipper caterpillars!

I should start by saying I'm not all that fond of Cannas. I should be, I'm sure, with their huge leaves and dramatic blooms, but for whatever reason, cannas aren't really my number one choice for my garden. In fact, I probably wouldn't have them at all, except for the fact that previous residents had planted them sort of haphazardly around the foundation of the house. We found the bulbs when we were digging in preparation for our own gardens, and stuck them in a pot to see what would happen.

What happened, of course, was that they grew 5 feet tall practically overnight and sent out huge orange blooms on stalks. I kept them on the patio in a pot for awhile, but earlier this summer I got sort of tired of them and plunked them down in a corner of the garden outside instead.

Today, I strolled out to check on enormous fire ant mound (look for a post on that later this week) and noticed the tell-tale signs of canna skipper caterpillars - leaf rolling!

Canna leaves are huge and don't give caterpillars much of a place to hide, so the caterpillars create their own shelters by cutting along the leaf in two places and then spinning silk threads from side to side. As the silk dries, it shrinks and pulls the leaf pieces together, creating a nice little hidy-hole for the caterpillar. The caterpillars nest in there during the day and emerge at night (well, at least their heads do) to feed. As they outgrow one nest, they create another.

Of course, I had to open a few rolled leaves to check out the caterpillars, which are pretty fascinating themselves. To start with, they're transparent - the green you see inside is actually leaf being digested. Crazy!

You can also see the little silk pads that the caterpillars uses to help "stitch" the leaf together, and the neat path that's been chewed in the leaf so it will fold nicely.

If you're wondering what the butterfly will eventually look like, check out this information on the Canna Skipper, also called the Brazilian Skipper, from Not as flashy or showy as a monarch or swallowtail, but skippers are delightful in their own way. Hopefully, these canna skipper caterpillars will thrive here in My Florida Backyard!

*Is anyone getting these Perfect Stranger references?

1 comment:

  1. I always enjoy your informative posts! This was fascinating, thanks!