This is an update to a tale originally published by Loret T. Setters on September 13, 2011 at the defunct national blog nativeplantwildlifegarden[dot]com. Click the date to view reader comments and find working links to other stories.
Do you have native plants as larval hosts? What you say? Of course…Look, there is my Partridge Pea (Chamaecrista fasciculata) ready for the Sulphur Butterflies and over there…Purple Passionflower (Passiflora incarnata) just waiting for the Gulf Fritillaries to lay their eggs. Then there is the Water Cowbane (Tiedemannia filiformis) standing tall so the Black Swallowtail butterflies can find them and, of course, plenty of Milkweeds (Asclepias spp.) to save the Monarch. I could go on, but you get the idea.
This will be more of a pictorial about the unsung heroes of the garden. Moth Caterpillars! Butterflies are lovely dotting the landscape with color as they flutter about, but they aren’t the only ones who start out as caterpillars. Moth caterpillars play a big part in feeding birds and reptiles. Some of the caterpillars tend to be quite showy. Many are generalists using several different larval host plants. I’m lucky because this crew mostly chooses shrubs or wildflowers which don’t show the damage where they feed. Too often moth caterpillars are removed or sprayed with pesticides because they don’t turn into gorgeous winged beauties (although the Polyphemus Moth would give any butterfly a run for the money). Since I let them be, I now have a healthy contingent of the upper level members of the food chain to keep them in check. Although this list is hardly exhaustive, here are some of the plants on my property and the moth caterpillars they support:
Banded Sphinx Moth Caterpillar – Eumorpha fasciatus uses Winged Primrosewillow (Ludwigia alata):
Prominent caterpillar – Schizura unicornis shown on Wax Myrtle (Myrica cerifera):
IO Moth stinging caterpillars – Automeris io munching Eastern Redbud (Cercis canadensis) Note that the majority were gone the next day and a fat anole was lounging on the truck of the tree.
Emerald Moth – Synchlora spp. decorates itself as it dines on Spanish Needles (Bidens Alba) :
Wax Myrtle (Myrica cerifera) also feeds the Polyphemus Moth – Antheraea polyphemus
Dog Fennel (Eupatorium capillifolium) or Elderberry (Sambucus nigra) provides this Salt Marsh caterpillar –Estigmene acrea with plenty of sustenance:
Wax Myrtle (Myrica cerifera) popular with the Southern flannel moth caterpillar – Megalopyge opercularis:
Shyleaf (Aeschynomene americana), and other members of the pea, spurge and grass families provides food for the Pale-edged Selenisa Moth Caterpillar (Selenisa sueroides):
Southern Beeblossom (Gaura angustifolia) feeds the Clouded Crimson Moth Caterpillar (Schinia gaurae)
Owlet Moth (Noctuidae) caterpillar (species unknown) rests on Spanish Needles (Bidens Alba)
Rabbitbells (Crotalaria rotundifolia) seed pods feed the Bella Moth – Utetheisa ornatrix
BALD-CYPRESS TREE (Taxodium distichum) hosts the chunky and colorful Baldcypress Sphinx Moth Caterpillar (Isoparce cupressi) :
And the ever popular Wax Myrtle (Myrica cerifera) also feeds this Slug Caterpillar (species unknown):
So, if you want to feed the birds and encourage frogs, toads and lizards, add some of these lovely Florida Native Plants to your garden (provided they are native and appropriate to your location). They’ll attract the insects that feed the next in line critters.