Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Nature knows what it's doing

Yesterday evening, I was walking back from across the street, where I'd been watering our neighbors' potted plants. Like I sometimes do, I stopped and peered at plants in the adjacent vacant lot along the fence line. Maybe a little cenizo was coming up beneath the adult. It'd sure be cool to have one in our Wildscape. No luck, though. Darn it.

Then I looked at the cenizo leaves. A caterpillar! First, I thought it was a crimson patch larva (Chlosyne janais), which host on flame acanthus and other members of the acanthus family. I looked around other leaves but couldn't spot any more caterpillars. But what was a crimson patch doing on a cenizo? 

Back at my desk, I looked up cenizo (Leucophyllum frutescens) and found two species that it hosts: theona checkerspot (Chlosyne theona) and Calleta silkmoth (Eupackardia calleta). No, I concluded, my caterpillar wasn't either one of those. Perhaps a butterfly mama had made a mistake and laid her egg on the wrong host plant? Or maybe I'd observed a new species on the cenizo, one that hadn't been documented before?

HA! Dumb me!

Like Mother Nature would make a mistake? Hardly! I went back to looking at images of Chlosyne theona larvae and quickly realized that my caterpillar friend on the cenizo WAS indeed a Chlosyne theona.

But just now, I also realized that my initial theory of finding a crimson patch wasn't too far off. The two butterflies are in the same genus: Chlosyne.

Maybe I'm not so dumb after all.

Theona checkerspot larva (Chlosyne theona)

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