Monday, September 20, 2010

I'm a-Rolling

The butterfly life cycle consists of four distinct stages: egg, caterpillar, chrysalis, and adult. On any given day, we find examples of all these life stages in My Florida Backyard, and we've experienced each of them up close as well, from the laying of eggs to the emerging of a fully-formed butterfly from chrysalis. In general, the showy adult stage is considered to be the most beautiful, but we would argue that often a chrysalis is just as lovely, if not even more so.

Case in point: the Canna Skipper (also known as the Brazilian Skipper). Last summer, we documented the leaf-rolling behavior of the caterpillars, and now we have some beautiful shots of the chrysalis that results when these little guys finally satisfy their monstrous appetites.

The delicate green hue and dainty black spots are rather unexpected, to say the least. The butterfly itself is a fairly nondescript brown and white. Canna skipper caterpillars are some of the, well, less-beautiful caterpillars, to say the least. They're transparent, so their gut is visible. You can actually watch it move as the caterpillar digests its food. It's not for the squeamish, quite frankly.

The chrysalis makes up for the possible "ick" factor of the caterpillar. Note the brown tube extending from the left side in the above picture - it actually houses the developing proboscis of the butterfly. The whole thing is firmly wrapped in a bed of silk that draws the leaf closed around it. This makes it reasonably safe from predators during this very vulnerable time.

Canna Skippers are understandably regarded as a pest in many gardens. They do serious damage to the leaves of cannas, although they don't seem to affect the flowers. A dedicated wildlife gardener might consider having one patch of canna for display, and another especially for these creatures. You can easily transfer the caterpillars once they appear. Otherwise, watch for the white eggs on the leaves and scrape them off when you see them. This will keep your damage to a minimum while limiting the need for pesticides.

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