Spectaularly toxic

So, our farm is apparently teaming with somewhat toxic critters. I say this as I just happened to catch this guy out of the corner of my eye during one of our pasture walks…

Saddleback caterpillar

Saddleback caterpillar

This venomous caterpillar is the larval stage of the slug moth and is the second most dangerous caterpillar in North America (the Flannel moth is first with its larva called the puss caterpillar). The venom can be hemolytic and can cause an intense, systemic allergic response (urticaria). There is great info about this critter at the University of Florida’s entomology site:

The lesson I am learning is if something is pretty and spiky…DO NOT TOUCH IT!



Hi everybody. Sorry for the password protection. Seems a recent update had different default settings. Technology… rules us.

Speaking of protection……and now that I can share with you more images and idle chit-chat…..

Here is another critter that I had occasion to meet amongst my hot peppers. These guys are very pretty to look at, but boy howdy are they destructive. And….gooshy. Gross.

Anyway, here is a mighty eating machine I found on a jalapeno…

Tomato hornworm on a jalapeno pepper

Tomato hornworm on a jalapeno pepper

A pretty (and well fed) tomato hornworm. This particular ‘pillar likes plants in the solanaceae family. And because our tomatoes were long gone due to blight, this guy did just fine on a pepper plant, or two.

The caterpillar eventually will turn into a moth called the five-spotted hawkmoth (info sources: Wikipedia, Colorado State Extension). Hornworms are among the largest caterpillars. Because of their coloration, they are often hard to see (well protected/camouflaged on their host plant). The way you know they are there is the observation that your plant(s) had leaves yesterday, but it doesn’t today! The adults, however, are harmless. Hornworms transform into sphinx, hawk or hummingbird moths.

In terms of control, like with most bugs, the most recommended organic control involves manual removal (also read this to mean squishing them…yuck). Interestingly, these guys also have a natural control…there is a group of beneficial wasps (Braconid wasps) that parasitize these caterpillars by laying their eggs just under the pillar’s skin. As the eggs develop into larvae, the larvae eat the pillar from the inside out. Once the larvae migrate through the skin, they pupate along the back of the caterpillar, forming little white cocoons all over the ‘pillar’s exterior. The adult wasps emerge and the weakened hornworm eventually dies (

Interesting. Tragic. Nature. Glad I can share it all with you now.

New critter found

I was digging up some carrots yesterday when I came across this critter in the garden…

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I wish I had a clearer shot. The iPhone kept focusing on its rear instead of its head.

At any rate, this guys is a late instar (larval) stage of a black swallowtail butterfly (a.k.a. eastern black swallowtail, American swallowtail, parsnip swallowtail, parsley swallowtail, celery worm, and caraway worm). It likes plants in the carrot family (ergo finding it while digging up carrots).

The larva go through several instar stages with younger ones being more black and white with spines. The spines disappear as the instar ages and the black coloration fades to a vibrant green that you see in the above photos. Apparently, the larvae have a gland located in its head region that everts itself when the caterpillar is startled or threatened. The gland, forked and brightly colored orange, is called the osmeterium. This gland also secrets a foul-smelling material made up of terpenes (glad I didn’t experience any of this action). Although the sight and smell are alarming, unlike the Io moth larva I encountered last week, this guy is not dangerous to us at all.

Here is a photo from Wikipedia of the everted osmeterium:

File:Black-swallowtail-osmeterium.JPG  Glad I didn’t startle my new little friend.

Though these guys like to eat parsley, dill, fennel, celery, carrots and such (probably impact commercial farms more than a small farm like ours)….they actually become beneficial insects to the garden. The eastern black swallowtail is a key pollinator, so I say welcome little larva. Hope when you pupate, your chrysalis camouflages you from the birds and other predators that might cross your path.

There is more information from the University of Florida at this website:

One day, my little larva friend may be one of these:

The male butterfly has more prominent yellow coloration with bright red eyes on the hind wing.

Photo from Wikipedia

The female butterfly has pale yellow coloration and brighter blue margins of the hind wings.

Photo from Wikipedia

Either one will be most welcome to our farm!