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Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Mystery solved, with a little help

I was trimming some branches on a shrub outside of our house, and was surprised to encounter this:

Okay, that's an extreme closeup.  

Below is a different view, and from further away:

 Do you have a guess about what type of animal this is?

The picture below shows one end of the animal:

Are you ready for the answer?

The next picture will give it away:

This a Carolina Sphinx Moth caterpillar, sometimes called a Tobacco Hornworm (Manduca sexta).  Some of you might also be familiar with Tomato Hornworms (Manduca quinquemaculatus) instead of diagonal lines as in this Tobacco Hornworm, Tomato Hornworms have v-shaped markings on their sides.  Tomato Hornworms also tend to have eight stripes, rather than seven.  And the "horn" is red in Tobacco Hornworms, but tends to be black in Tomato Hornworms.

Here's a view of this large caterpillar from above:

I'm grateful to this caterpillar for helping me solve a mystery.  We're living in a new house, and I hadn't known the identity of a purple-flowering shrub.  When I found this caterpillar, I realized I had a clue.  These caterpillars eat plants in the Solanaceae Family (tobacco, tomato, eggplant, nightshade, etc.).  So then I did a quick Internet image search for shrubs in that family with purple flowers.  There it was!  It's sometimes called Blue Potato Bush, or Gentian Bush (Lycianthes rantonnetii, or Solanum rantonnetii).

And here's one more fun fact about the caterpillar.  Gardeners might think of the hornworms as pests because they have voracious appetites for leaves of valuable crops.  This is not a "wimpy" caterpillar the one I found was ~3 inches long!  Their scientific name, "Manduca," is appropriate it means "glutton."

P.S.  If you'd like to see pictures of the sphinx moth that this caterpillar will turn into, click here.

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