CATERPILLARS, TURTLES AND CRAB
A few caterpillars came into my life - some to woo me, and others to shoo me. The positive side of this larval connection is my finding the intriguing caterpillar of a Tiger Swallowtail Butterfly. I have found these before, but you almost have to be lucky to find them. I was lucky this week. I set out trying to find a Spring Peeper to photograph since I had highlighted those amphibians and wanted to show you them up close and personal. The weather has turned cooler here in Maine, though we finally got some rain. The Peepers were all hiding but one, which jumped off the Raspberry leaf just as I lowered my camera for a close look. However, in my thorough examination of each leaf (or so it seemed) along the cattail marsh, I turned my attention to the leaves of Cherry. There, in plain view was the Tiger Swallowtail novelty! It was enshrouded in a net of fibers and appeared ready for change into a chrysalis. I brought it home on its curled leafy "bed" to watch the transformation. It has now changed from the bright green camouflaging color to brown. In that pupal form, it will rest through the winter before emerging in the spring. That is a long "sleep", and I will return it to the outdoors to weather the storms.
But look again at the caterpillar to the left. Its green color matches the green of the leaf, making it hard to detect. Often the leaf curls around the larva hiding its presence. What I remember, with amazement, are the "fake eyes" above the yellow band on the anterior end. Looking carefully, the number "10" stands out in those "eyes"! Who would have thought to hide that numeral? In the picture, also notice the fibrous netting spun by the caterpillar.
Now, on to the caterpillars that have elicited a negative response in this gardener. Just when I was looking forward to a late harvest of tomatoes, I noticed the leaves from my plants were being chewed, big time! Upon careful examination, I noticed huge, decorated caterpillars dining on my precious tomato plants! I reached to pull them off, and their clasping abdominal pockets (called prolegs) held tight! I began to admire their tenacity and beauty, but that did not diminish my need to capture everyone I could find. These are Tomato Hornworms. They are the larval forms of a Sphinx Moth, host specific to the tomato. The picture above and to the right clearly shows its paired six legs on the head end, and the paired abdominal claspers behind, that function in climbing. The white bands are decorative, but the round holes below function in respiration (spiracles). That red horn? Eye catching for sure, but purely decorative and distracting from the more important front end. I continue to wage a fierce battle with these marauding caterpillars, as big as my fingers.
From caterpillars, I proceed to turtles, and a strange one indeed. I had heard rumors that a large turtle had washed up dead on one of the islands near Sebasco. When I finally had time to pursue this reported sighting, the animal had floated and was tied to the rocks on the mainland. I went over to investigate, and sure enough, it was a large Leatherback Turtle! I had seen a picture of one of these marine turtles sprawled on the stern of a fisherman's boat, taken some years ago. The Leatherback has a ridged and leathery shell. This one was about 5 ft. in length and must have weighed several hundred pounds. Here is a picture of the animal as it lay dead on the shores of Sebasco. Why it ventured into our waters is a mystery. They are more commonly found in warmer waters, though I understand they can maintain a body temperature of 80 degrees even in cold waters. Their preferred food is jellyfish, and one wonders if this animal ingested a balloon or plastic bag causing its demise. How can such a large animal thrive on jellyfish anyway? Our waters have produced periodic sightings of jellyfish, but in limited numbers. Whether I am able to gather any bones from this animal, only time will tell. Turtles and whales, what next?
I will close with one representative marine invertebrate, the Toad Crab, which we found on our last walk on Hermit Island. Is it any wonder that we fail to observe this small crab? It is covered with plant growth, making it look like a walking seaweed. Its body is shaped more like a triangle. It has tucked its pinchers underneath, but they are quite small and not the formidable defenses of the green or red crabs.
From caterpillars to turtles to crabs, it has been a most interesting week on the Maine shoreline. One never knows what is hiding, in plain sight!
9/6/03 Puzzled and bemused Ronnie.
PS I may still find that Spring Peeper to photograph. Also, my Monarch chrysalises are about to produce flying adult butterflies!