Fauna of the Week--Xylophanes Tersa
Consumption is way up this year. I seem to be losing plant matter at an alarming rate, mostly to caterpillars. I certainly hope all that caterpillar poo is good for something.
is an annual here in Western North Carolina, but the late summer color is terrific and it gives both my hummingbirds and the butterflies something new on the buffet to enjoy. It's a popular plant for butterfly gardens nationwide. When I walked by to check on it, well, chunks were missing. How rude! Investigation was in order and revealed a hulking brown caterpillar with a horn on his rear efficiently making mincemeat of the penta leaves. I was very curious about this, because Penta is not native in this neck of the woods, so what would have evolved to munch on it? Something less specific about its dinner habits than monarchs are, that's what. The
This fellow (at the larval stage) comes in both green and brown versions. He eats just about anything in the
family--a rather large group of plants--to which penta happens to belong. I wanted to know if maybe there were a couple of other plants I could add to use instead of penta that would be native to the area--did a little search on wildflower.org, of course, and--well, you can see the whole shooting match
. I should be able to find
out of all that. Because what could be more cool than more sphinx moths, right?
The most common sphinx caterpillar to the home gardener is the familiar tomato hornworm, who's adult life is spent as a
. Another very popular sphinx moth is
. But I digress.
The Tersa Sphinx Moth caterpillar, after devouring all your plants in the
family, will burrow into some loose soil to
. After his transformation, he'll come out to eat after sundown, and is apparently fond of honeysuckles such as our native
. Many of the sphinx moths have "heavy" bodies in appearance and would seem to be too chunky to be lifted by the primary wings. Once the
is exposed, however, the beauty of these moths is apparent. Elaborate patterns and enough aerodynamic lift to get that body up and moving off its little stick legs--these creatures are fascinating to watch.
Tersa Sphinx Moths have a wingspan of up to 3 1/8 inches, so they are easy enough to spot if you're prepared. They are attracted to lights after dark, so check out your deep-throated flowers with a big flashlight tonight and see what's out there!