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Wednesday, November 02, 2005

The Abominable Killer 'pillar

This was weird. And I'm sure there is a natural explanation for it: I just don't know what it is yet.

There was a green lynx spider with her egg sac that I had been monitoring to
see how long it takes the eggs to hatch. About 5 weeks had passed, and the mother was wandering away from the egg sac; maybe the eggs weren't viable. I noticed a purdy little caterpillar nearby on the same African basil plant innocently munching on flowers, or so it seemed.

A few days later, I found the same sweet caterpillar chewing a hole into the spider's egg sac. Why, I'm thinking, would a self-respecting herbivorous caterpillar type be chewing on spider silk? You can see the hole here with the spider eggs kind of spilling out, while the caterpillar is lolling off to the side a little bit later that same day. I noticed the caterpillar had black tarry-looking goo coming out where normally nice dry green packets of droppings would be. (More information than you needed?)

The next day I caught the caterpillar red-mandibled going in. Sorry this shot is so fuzzy, but frankly I was appalled and couldn't concentrate on my exposure or focus lock.

You know the sick knot you get in your stomach during the scene from Monty Python & the Holy Grail where King Arthur and his knights approach the Cave of Caerbannog, a
nd what appears to be a fluffy white bunny is revealed to be a fearsome bloodthirsty monster as it rips out their throats? CATERPILLARS AREN'T SUPPOSED TO EAT MEAT OR MEAT PRODUCTS OR animal flesh of any kind. Here is the repulsive little abomination curled up inside the egg sac a little later the same day, seemingly resting cozily.

I can't say for sure the caterpillar ate the spider eggs; it was really hard to see what was going on in there. But here is the egg sac, the caterpillar's gone, and there are no eggs left inside.

During this process the mother spider paid no attention to her eggs or the interloper, although she was quite close by catching honeybees. Don't know what happened to the caterpillar, but I do know I watch my back when I get near that African basil ( trying not to imagine slasher moth flying up from the shrubbery cutting slits in eyeballs then sipping them dry with its deadly proboscis).

If a caterpillar eats leaves from a genetically engineered plant, and the caterpillar becomes a butterfly that feeds on nectar from genetically enhanced flowers, which then mates with another butterfly that fed on some other altered flowers and had been a caterpillar that ate fly-eating-fish-gene-spliced veggies, what is the chance of producing caterpillar offspring that munch spider eggs?


vanessa cardui said...

Only N. Amer butterfly with carnivorous caterpillars

vanessa cardui said...

snail eating caterpillars of Hawaii

Cindy said...

That does seem weird. But here's my crazy theory. I think you have a corn earworm caterpillar. I googled around and found this description of their feeding habits:The newly hatched caterpillar will eat its egg shell and then feed on tender leaves. Older caterpillars feed on older leaves and tunnel into fruit. A wide variety of wild plants and crops including beans, corn, cotton, peanuts, sorghum, tomato, and ornamental (bedding and flowering) plants are suitable hosts. Caterpillars have silk glands and produce silk threads around feeding sites.

OK, the young caterpillar is eating flowers, tender leaves, then it gets bigger, and is pre-disposed to tunnel into the food (originally a corn kernel, probably) Anyway, here's this big hungry caterpillar who doesn't notice that he's nibbled right into a spider egg sac because he doesn't see very well and maybe it smells like the rest of the basil by now, and..."Hey, this stuff is mighty tasty. I'll just eat my way through the whole thing!" Or something like that.

I sent a link to this intreaguing page to my friends at the Butterfly Gardening forum. Maybe they will know.

Lucio said...

Now that article was informative! I like reading your articles on insects a lot.

cheesemeister said...

Far out--it could be the premise for a "B" movie: Moth Swarms of Death!
Insects are fascinating, even if they have been the cause of many a girly scream on my part!

...Kat said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Robin said...

Aiiieeeee!!! Almost as bad as rescuing a very cat-played-with praying mantis only to have my fingers raked by his sharpened fore-arm weapons of death!!!! What gratitude!!!! At least cat-played-with lizards are much more grateful!!! They just hunker down in the warmth of my hands....
Anyway, outstanding observation!!! My eldest son and I were in the garden looking at flowers and noticed a litle yellow/black beetle that looked like he was standing on his head eating polled in the center of the flower. Son goes to touch leetle beetle and crab spider shakes her fist at him and tells him to STOP MESSING WITH MY FOOD!!!!!
At least that's what we thought....