Saturday, October 24, 2009

Mystery Caterpillar (2)

According to the folks over at (a site I am definitely going to remember), my mystery caterpillar is a Giant Swallowtail caterpillar, also known as the orange dog caterpillar.

Quick net research reveals that it is a favorite of butterfly gardeners, but that orange growers have it on their hit list due to its enormous appetite and love of citrus leaves (which means that most of their names for it are probably a lot more colorful and less printable than "orange dog").

I have one lime tree, and I can see why the beast irritates citrus growers: I spotted the caterpillar in the first place because I was trying to figure out what was stripping the leaves off so many branches. On the other hand, as the one-lime-tree status indicates, I am more of a butterfly gardener than a citrus grower. I have watched Giant Swallowtails in the park and admired their slow, circling flight and their beauty. From my point of view, 10-20% of one plant's leaves (it's eaten about 10% now and has, I think, got its current length yet to grow before pupating; assuming I'm correct about its length--how does one measure something that usually sits somewhat bunched up?) is a small price to pay to host that beauty, however briefly.

According to one or the other articles I looked at (probably the wikipedia article), the now one inch (give or take, see above) caterpillar will grow to be two inches before it settles down for the winter in its cozy cocoon for the winter. After that, assuming nothing has parasitized it, it will sleep all winter and come out again in the spring. I really, really hope I get to watch, but my chances are small. We've been hosting fritillaries on our passion vine for years now, and I only rarely get to see the butterflies emerge.

Still, I plan on coddling this fellow as much as I can--which really means leaving it alone and trying to find out whether or not Neem hurts it (probably not; I am sure I've sprayed at least a couple of times since his egg was laid).

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