I love butterflies and it is my goal to attract many varieties of butterflies and ensure that they will take up residence in my yard instead of just passing through. With that in mind this year I planted parsley and Queen Anne's Lace (host plants) for the Black Swallowtail butterfly. Yesterday I notice that a number of leaves on my Italian parsley had been eaten. Upon closer inspection I saw a caterpillar and then another and another....7 in total! I was so excited I started jumping for joy. Of course my husband wondered what was going on so he came over to share in my excitement. What we saw were caterpillars in different developmental stages.
Early instar caterpillar
Late instar caterpillar (without spikes)
Many of the caterpillars were in the late instar stage and getting ready to go off and find a place to build their chrysalis. So very exciting!!!
I also found another type of caterpillar in the garden. This one is the tomato hornworm caterpillar eating away at my tomato and pepper plants. Definitely, not a good thing. These caterpillars come from moths who deposit eggs on host plants, such as tomatoes. They feed into the early fall and then pupate. The pupae remain in the soil through the winter. And, this can result in a continuous cycle of pests in my vegetable garden.
Tomato Hornworm Caterpillar
Usually when I find these I remove them and kill them by placing them in soapy water; however, I have a natural insect pest control doing the work for me. These caterpillars are covered with cocoons of a parasitic wasp. Larvae that hatch from the wasp eggs feed on the inside of the hornworms until the wasp is ready to pupate. These wasps kill the hornworms when they emerge from the cocoons and will seek other hornworms to parasitize. Mother Nature at work is a very good thing!
Braconid Parasitic Wasp cocoons