yard log 8/18/12: the wee worms, tiny bees, snails

What would I do without my yard – mi yarda I would like to call it. As my mind is taken over with life at the Museum Education Department, if I didn’t have the paths to follow with the hose for 15 minutes each morning, I would be too overwhelmed with my all-encompassing job.

The image that keeps coming back to me from this summer is of Tomato Horn Worms the size of Inch Worms. Tiny. Have not seen them that little before – they were on the Datura. Previous summers these horn worms have devoured the Datura so that no leaves nor blossoms were present and the tough plant would re-burst some new sets of leaves. Knowing the hallucinogenic properties when humans ingest the root, I wondered at the worm’s experience. I was amazed to see horn worms so tiny on the plant this year – worms I have always seen at their most fat and lengthy stage. This summer the worms have not succeeded in stripping off all the Datura leaves, thank goodness.


[photo by George Bedehof, Michigan]

So, I have spent some time learning about these, at the easiest online place to learn – good ole Wikipedia. Please bear with as I share what I am learning.

First off, I found that these worms have been observed to regurgitate 98% of toxicity from plants like tobacco. So that explains why they aren’t in a stupor on the Moon Flowers.

These worms become the nocturnal Sphinx Moth that pollinates the Datura. Sphingidae! Their flight has been observed to incorporate “swing-hovering.” These ‘hawk moths’ are one of 4 nectar-eating flyers to be able to do such rapid, sustained flying. Have learned that they are some of the fastest flying insects – they can fly up to 30 mph. Pretty neat for their small size.

These animals have had our tomato plants to gorge themselves on as well these past few years, probably 50 feet away. The eggs can hatch from between 3 to 21 days. So as I water this morning, I am looking for the eggs. The caterpillars will pupate in the ground – and I learn they will emerge as moths in about 2 weeks. The last of the pupas to be developed later in September October will overwinter til next year. These caterpillars must be pretty smart to pupate not directly in the soil beneath the tomatoes, which I will spade up next March. Only rarely have I discovered pupae, and am not sure if they are Sphingoids. I have hoped they were Papilio rutulus pupae. I remember when my students Benito and Juanelo brought in the pupa they found last spring in the maceta in their sand box only a few blocks away. As Benito held the big brown wonder in his hand, it was moving. I have found those same ones en mi yarda.


[photo of my tile,”Tiger Swallowtail on your way to grapes” © 2008 CC Snider-Bryan all rights reserved]

I think it’s the caterpillars that have been eating big bites from each of my actual tomato fruit, instead of just the young leaves as the article states. I am not finding horn worms this morning though. So maybe it’s the grasshoppers who are eating the fruit.

Acutally, come to think of it, I haven’t seen a horn worm on my plants since I captured two of them to take to my classroom at the beginning of July. They did not live past the weekend in the gallon jar supplied with tomato branches and bit of water. I was not nice to them – better to have smashed them with a rock and put them out of their misery quickly.


[photo by CC Snider-Bryan ‘Bloomin’ Chives en mi yarda’]

Right now is my favorite midsummer time when all the chives are flowering! And there are tiny bees pollinating them. My co-worker Mike Sanchez, inspiring encyclopaedia about arthropods, told me about them on a training hike. I thought they were flies. But oh, no, they are “hymnoptera” – the class of 2 sets of wings that are bees and wasps. This luxurious day at home I am observing them – on the chives and on the mint flowers.

Snails, why snails in the title you ask? Well, I saw them scaling my basil. And I realize that i need to thoroughly wash basil de mi yarda! Our daughter is moving out this weekend and she wanted to go to the Growers Market for her larder and I replied that she could have chard, tomatoes and basil from our yard and the eggplant and onion from her house sitting job. But she better wash the basil.


2 Responses to “yard log 8/18/12: the wee worms, tiny bees, snails”

  1. August 23, 2012 at 6:25 pm

    Oh, I enjoyed this so much! I would tell you the tale of whatever is eating my Cape Honeysuckle, but I haven’t caught a glimpse of it yet. I suspect snails, but I’m just not sure. I think it’s happening at night – so it seems. It’s funny, because they’re on a second story concrete walkway. Whatever is enjoying the flowers and buds is making quite a trek to get there!

    The caterpillars always make me think of Alice in Wonderland. Remember the big, hookah-smoking caterpillar in that story? Well, and in Jefferson Airplane’s song, “White Rabbit”, too. My, that has been a long time ago.

    We’re overrun with lizards right now – geckos, anole, and something I can’t identify. It may be a standard chameleon. They can turn every shade from black to green. I’ve even seen them turn “concrete” – gray and brown mottled. It’s amazing.

    I really like your tile. We have swallowtails here, too, although not many. But they’re beautiful. I’m glad you memorialized them!

    • August 23, 2012 at 9:04 pm

      Ummm, Cape Honeysuckle – can imagine that fragrance – ummm! There are things devouring it? I get a picture of tropical reality – yours. I have visited Padre Island many times – that store Island Native was a favorite shop … but maybe I have the wrong island for you. Such herp diversity there – I imagine all those types of lizard that do not inhabit our high desert. “Mimicry” — the way beings blend with surroundings – don’t know if that’s the right scientific term or not — adaptations that beings make to make their lives easier. I was realizing that the verb “mimic” would describe what I sometimes observe in plants – where a common plant next to another seems to look like it …

      Such a pleasure to have your responses, Linda. Vive la camaraderie!!!

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