Friday, July 9, 2010

Chomping among the sunflower leaves

"So have you checked on those caterpillars on the sunflower?" James asked me awhile ago. No, I replied, shaking my head, "I keep forgetting."

James is busy this afternoon, loading up limestone rocks that the city guys have unearthed and left near The Meadow. They're installing new sewer pipes, which is an eyesore right now but (I guess) will be wonderful later on down the road. As our little cousin, Drew, so wisely told James yesterday, when they surveyed the project, "You gotta have a mess first before you can have progress." (He's still amazed at how wise she is for a six-year-old.)

Back to caterpillars. Oh, yes, the silvery checkerspot larvae are absolutely stripping the sunflower. I leaned over and listened. Sure enough, I could hear them all munching! I wonder what's gonna happen when they run out of leaves? Move to nearby lantana leaves? We'll see.

Here's what J.P. Michaud says about the larvae of Chlosyne nycteis in connection with sunflower crops (Entomology, Kansas State University): "Females lay their eggs in relatively large clusters, often as many as 100. It is also sometimes called the sunflower butterfly because it has a strong preference for the Asteraceae. In Kansas, there are typically two generations per year. Although the first generation lays its eggs too early to be of concern to commercial sunflowers, the flight of the second generation can coincide with the period of crop development. Even large plants can be completely skeletonized by larval feeding, but more damage can occur when egg clusters are laid on young plants in the V4-V6 stage, in which case the entire plant is quickly consumed and larvae migrate to neighbouring plants, sometimes creating a bare hole in the field."

UPDATE–When I showed my son, Patrick, what was left of the sunflower leaves last Saturday (the next day after this post), nearly all the caterpillars had VANISHED! Packed up and left. Vamanos-ed. I still have no clue where everyone went.

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