Friday, November 5, 2010

Suburban survivor

"Gee, that's a funny looking leaf structure," I thought as I caught sight of it out of the corner of my eye while making the morning's rounds.

But a leaf structure it ain't:
It's the full length of my index finger, and slightly fatter.
At first I wondered if perhaps it came from outer space, but it's actually the biggest damned caterpillar I've seen in my entire LIFE.  A quick Google of the terms 'Texas giant green caterpillar' revealed it as the precursor to the rustic sphinx moth (manduca rustica), the name having derived from it's sphinx-like pose, partially shown above. 

It's a formidable creature by any measure.
I don't think I'd like to mess with that stabbing apparatus on its back end.
This is the giant moth that it eventually morphs into - they can have wingspans up to six inches!  This is real Silence of the Lambs stuff here. 
(pic from Wikipedia)
I scooped him up into a glass jar so that I can show him to Cayley and Lawrence later.  It was 43 degrees out and he was in a torpor when I found him - I hope he survives. 

His capture begs two questions:

(1) Where the hell did he come from?  As I noted in a previous post, we are basically emerging from a scorched-earth environmental scenario here, a vast zone of acreage that was plowed down to bare earth, literally stripped of every single blade of grass just one year ago at the start of development.  I'm always impressed at the way Nature takes it back here in the subtropics, but this is remarkable.  In all of these surrounding yards with their sterile, monocultured, pesticide-laden landscaping, my lantana was probably the only edible plant for quite some distance.  How he (or the original layer of his egg) found it in all this wasteland is impressive. 

(2) What should I do with him?  I don't want to off such a magnificent creature, but he has already eaten about half of my lantana, and I don't think there's enough material left on it for him to make it to chrysalis stage.  Maybe I should do my usual blogosphere search, find out what food I could substitute (the Wiki description suggests that they eat only a narrow range of stuff), and raise him to moth-hood.  That would be an entirely different experience - hatching out a moth with a six-inch wingspan! 

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