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Sexless Insects

>> Friday, September 26, 2008

Since most of you may not know, I work at The Butterfly Farm. This is a 10,000 sq. ft. enclosed tropical garden PARADISE for many species of neo-tropical butterflies. The location in St. Thomas is just over a year old but we have already had a great impact on the community and have helped to start local butterfly breeding programs at various schools and educate people on backyard butterfly gardening. This will explain why I am such an avid reader of Q's Corner, Bug Girl's Blog, and My Wildlife Sanctuary. You three give me hope for butterflies the world over... and your pictures, oh my!

So since so many of you love butterflies so much, I am going to give you a very brief rundown on our caterpillar friends and why they are important even though many think they are a nuisance.... Bug Girl, you are the expert so feel free to correct me.

Parthenos sylvia, Common: Sylvia or Clipper

I have no caterpillar pictures today, as I am horrid at taking them, but I am posting some of my friends from the farm.

Caterpillar Facts:

First off, we sciencey types refer to them in this stage as "larva." I always tell people it is because caterpillar has too many letters to type!

  1. Caterpillars (on average, mind you) have eight pairs of fleshy appendages that most consider legs. Really only the first 3 pairs are legs. We are trying to convince ourselves that they are insects and insects have 6 legs, like butterflies do. The other legs are "prolegs."
  2. Caterpillars have 6 pairs of very pathetically weak eyes (ocelli) right around their mouth so all they can see is the food in front of them. This is good since they are voracious eaters. Compare this to the butterfly again and notice butterflies have 2 very complex compound eyes on either side of their head.
  3. Since all they do is eat for 2 weeks, they are sexless (hence the title of this post). No need for males and females if you aren't mating!
  4. Caterpillars can consume 20 times their weight in food a day. That is approximately half a ton for an average 7 year old.
  5. Since they eat so much, they also "poop" a lot. We call this frass. Frass is good for your garden! It's free fertilizer. Believe you me, any of you with monarchs around know, monarchs make A LOT of frass.
  6. Caterpillars grow approximately 2,700 times their original size in their average lifespan of 2 weeks. If we had a newborn eight pound baby that ate as much as a caterpillar, that baby would be over 20,000 pounds at the end of 2 weeks. That is 10 tons of baby fat!
  7. MOST IMPORTANT THING TO KNOW!!!!! Caterpillars all turn into butterflies or moths. I know this seems obvious, but it bugs me (no pun intended) when people come in and tell me they hate caterpillars and kill them all the time but then the next breath mention how they don't see as many butterflies as they used to.... gee, really?!?!
The fact is, caterpillars will destroy certain plants, to an extent. We know what these plants are, so do yourself a favor and plant an area that is butterfly friendly... sacrificial plants, if you will. I don't mean a butterfly bush here guys. I mean host plants. You find a caterpillar on your dill, you move it to the dill in the butterfly safe zone. They can't hurt you and they will stay there since there is food. This will lead to more butterflies in your area because you will not only have flowers for them to get their alcohol (more on that later), but host plants to lay their eggs on. This, in turn helps to pollinate your garden and others the world over, increasing the overall genetic diversity of plants, making them stronger.

Butterflies are super-pollinators. Without them, we would starve to death.

Idea leuconoe, A rare butterfly in the wild, breeds well in captivity
Common: Paper Kite, Tree Nymph, Rice Paper Butterfly

Creative Commons License
P. sylvia and I. leuconoe by M. Moya is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 United States License.


Kitt September 26, 2008 at 12:19 PM  

Interesting! Lots of facts I didn't know.

I never kill bugs or caterpillars if I can help it. (As you've seen from all my bug photos.) Most of what I see turns out to be beneficial anyway.

sealaura September 26, 2008 at 2:04 PM  

Initially I had read the post as sexiest insects and i was like WOW what on earth..??
Still a great post ! :)

Q September 26, 2008 at 5:34 PM  

Thank you for linking Corner!
I love butterflies and caterpillars and plant lots of host plants. I sat with a Black Swallowtail caterpillar this afternoon. I just love to watch them! They seem to grow right in front of my very eyes.
Thank you for the information. I love learning and you are a great teacher!
On Butterfly Wings,

Wendy September 26, 2008 at 9:21 PM  

Wow - thanks for all those interesting facts. I was happy to read about your butterfly farm helping to educate the community. Bravo - keep up the good work.

Mimi September 27, 2008 at 12:18 AM  

@ kitt... OH! I am sorry I didn't list you! I almost forgot that the reason I started on your blog was your amazing dragon fly photos! you hooked me with the kitchen gadgets!

Mimi September 27, 2008 at 12:19 AM  

@ laura...I still think a lot of butterflies are very sexy! :D

Mimi September 27, 2008 at 12:20 AM  

@ Sherry... I think of you as a butterfly guardian. Your blog is proof that there are people that understand the life cycle. Linking to you was my pleasure!

Mimi September 27, 2008 at 12:22 AM  

@ Wendy... I realized when I was making a difference, when I saw more than one Gulf Fritillary in one day... in my back yard! I am glad to teach!

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