Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Who are these marauding invaders anyway? July 12, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 7:21 AM
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OK ALL OF YOU nature-loving entomologist types out there. I need your help.

A swarm of larvae has descended upon my potted fuchsia and I would like to identify these invaders.

At first I thought the caterpillar rather cute as I observed an ant scoot across its back and back. Note the singular word “caterpillar.”

An ant about to embark on a journey across the back of this unidentified larva on my fuchsia.

The larva squirms, reacting to the ticklish feet of the ant and that amuses me.

That was day one.

ON DAY TWO, the singular became plural as I counted some 25 larvae feasting on my fuchsia. Did the scout report back, “Hey, this way, over here, look what I found!” followed by “Forward, march!”  from the commander? The powerful army had stripped away the leaves, decimating the unguarded plant.

The larvae stripped the leaves from one fuchsia and were working on the second plant in an adjacent pot.

Munch, munch, munch. The fuchsia leaves quickly disappear.

Then I stood by as a caterpillar consumed an entire leaf, just like that. Now you see it, now you don’t.

They were entertaining, but certainly no longer cute.

I am determined to determine what type of infestation I have in the pots on my driveway. I consulted a master gardener who works at the library and sent me home with Butterflies and Moths, a Golden Guide, published by St. Martin’s Press. She thinks I may be dealing with White-lined Sphinx larvae. Maybe.

But I am confused because these creatures differ in appearance. Are some male, the others female? Does their maturity or size—some are skinny and others are, well, chubby—change their look?

See how this larva differs in appearance from the one in the image above?

Just a different shot of the same larva. FYI, I'm told the pointed "horn" is the tail. Right or not?

Online research confuses me even more.

So, if you are in the know, please give me your two or three or five cents worth. Heck, I’ll even take a dollar’s worth of knowledge.

And, as long as you’re answering my questions, I would like to know why these creepy crawlies prefer fuchsia to the untouched Diamond Frost, non-stop begonia, Wandering Jew and impatiens planted in the same two pots.

From my female perspective, I’m pondering, “Could fuchsia be the equivalent of chocolate to these larvae?”

© Copyright 2010 Audrey Kletscher Helbling