Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Be Our Guest

A hard-core butterfly gardener looks at plants in a different way than other gardeners. For instance, when we dropped a dozen bean seeds into the ground a few weeks ago, the crop we were hoping for wasn't green beans... it was caterpillars. Among others, long-tailed skippers use beans as a host plant, and we're proud to announce our first crop has arrived.

Last season we found some of these fellows on some hairy-pod cowpea growing wild near our yard, but cowpea can be tricky to start from seed, so we went with standard green beans in My Florida Backyard to provide a host plant for this species.

Long-tailed skippers are leaf-rollers. Very small caterpillars eat in from the edge of the leaf to cut a section to roll around themselves. They do this by spinning a bit of silk that shrinks when it dries, curling the leaf in. When they're bigger, they simply use the same method to roll up the entire leaf around them. This gives them a safe place from which to eat while protected from predators. Pretty clever, huh?

Of course, this clever behavior causes farmers and most gardeners to view this caterpillar as a pest. Understandable, if your goal is a crop of yummy green beans. But in My Florida Backyard, a crop of caterpillars makes us perfectly happy!


  1. I've let my pepper plants host some sort of leaf rolling caterpillar. They've done all the pepper making this hot weather will allow so why not host some wildlife? I haven't identified what the caterpillars are though. Hope you reap a big crop of skippers.

  2. Its nice to see someone who's happy to see caterpillars on their plants! I'm a big fan of passionflowers and their attendant zebra longwings. I also have a native wild lime that has swallowtail caterpillars. (look like bird droppings)

  3. I'm mixed...I want the butterflies but don't want to sacrifice some of my plants. My passionflower took quite a beating this year. I like your idea of planting beans for the butterflies. I'll have to try this approach - planting specific plants just for the cats so I don't have to sacrifice the ones I want to keep.