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


8 Responses to “Who are these marauding invaders anyway?”

  1. Miranda Says:

    I know! It’s “the very hungry caterpillar!” Ha ha…all you needed was the Eric Carle book to figure that one out.

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      It’s interesting that you should bring up Eric Carle’s The Very Hungry Caterpillar. I almost titled this post as such. So The Very Hungry Caterpillar (s) has most definitely been on my mind.

  2. Neil Says:

    I can’t believe that you don’t know a Hyles lineata when you see one! You must have missed school the day your science teacher lectured about them!

    Just kidding. If you google “White-Lined Sphinx larvae,” you’ll find a lot of photos that look similar to yours. Their coloring is highly variable. Apparently, fuschia is just one of numerous plants that they’ll eat. Among the most commonly listed are tomato, elm, apple, grape, and four o’clocks. So if you have any of those, don’t be surprised if they become a smorgasbord as well. From what little I know of caterpillars, it’s rare to find one that isn’t very hungry!

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      Neil, thanks for doing all that research for me. I, obviously, didn’t google enough. Besides, you’re more the science type than me. Can I use that as an excuse?

      Since publishing this post, the larvae have eaten all of the impatiens. I haven’t checked to see if they’ve tracked around the garage to the tomato plants.

  3. Kristin Says:

    They remind me of hornworms I used to have on tomato plants but look a little different. I just kept picking them off and ended up sudsing the plants with soapy water. Maybe a white lined sphinx?

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      My problem is deciding when to consider these larvae to be pests. Right about now I’m thinking if they invade my tomato plants, they’re history. And, I’m not too happy about these critters destroying my flowers.

  4. Gordon Says:

    Great pictures! I have to admit that I’ve never thought of getting my camera when I see these pests. I usually just get a couple small rocks to crush them. Poor things. They’re just trying to make a living.

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      Yeah, Gordon, I was pretty pleased with how my photos turned out. Anything can be a photo op for me, which is why I typically carry my camera with me.

      I didn’t have the heart to dispose of these creatures, meaning I sacrificed my flowers. But, if they touch my tomatoes…

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