When working in a garden or lounging around on a park bench, one might start to notice the beautiful life cycle of our winged insects. Our students are especially experts at finding our insect friends. While harvesting tomatoes for our Pico De Gallo recipe with our first graders we made a huge discovery: a three-inch long Hornworm Caterpillar chewing on our tomato leaves!
Oh my! These moments allow us to slow down and explore the garden more closely. What else might be crawling under the leaves or cocooning up to transform into a moth or butterfly? Who are these crawling creatures in our gardens and who do they become?
The Hornworm Caterpillar is considered a garden pest due to the sheer amount of foliage it eats! It especially loves tomato plants! Growing up to three inches long, this beautiful green machine will eat rapidly for over a month in order to then crawl under the soil and pupate. The caterpillar will overwinter here until the following June when soils and temperatures warm up. They transform into large moths that are strong flyers. They have a natural predator of parasitic wasps who lay their eggs inside the hornworm caterpillar! A beautifully balanced ecosystem will keep these giant eaters in check, along with tilling the soil a time or two in the winter.
Time of Discovery: Kindergarten Class during a lesson on Colors of the Rainbow.
Discovery: Swallowtail Caterpillar
Caterpillar Biography: Lover of the parsley family, these little striped garden friends can be found munching on your fennel, dill, carrots, celery, or queen anne’s lace plants. If you can spare a few leaves, they will pay you back in their beautiful butterfly form in the spring. The swallowtail caterpillars all have a special gland that secretes bad-smelling and bad-tasting chemicals to keep them safe from predators. Their beautiful patterns and colors will change dramatically as they grow and they will shed their skin five times. You can find them in your garden now through the winter as a pupae, keep your eyes open!
Time of Discovery: Fourth Grade Class exploring the different ecosystems of the garden.
Discovery: Ladybug Larvae
Larvae Biography: If you spot these crawling creatures in your garden, stop to give them a high-five! Maybe, just blow them a kiss because they are working away to find the aphids that cover your brassica plants with voracity . We all know of the beautiful spotted lady bug, but did you know that a single lady bug can eat up to 5,000 aphids in its life?! They will pupate on the leaf and transform into their adult form that we know so well. Keep an eye open for the eggs they lay, bright yellow ovals that are laid in bunches on the underside of leaves or stems.
Time of Discovery: 24th Street Workday Event
Discovery: Gulf Fritillary Caterpillar
Caterpillar Biography: Look out predators, this ones got spikes! Simply looking at this caterpillar would make me second guess eating it for dinner. The Gulf Fritillary Caterpillar has soft spikes that do not sting, however their orange and black strips warn those hungry birds that it is toxic to the taste. However, some evolved insects like the paper wasps have been seen braving this meal. Even though the Gulf Fritillary looks intimidating from the outside, and toxic from the inside, they are rarely seen on anything other than passion fruit vines. Your vegetables are safe from this one, and better yet they turn into beautiful golden butterflies after all is said and done.
Now go explore your own garden, park, or tree to see what crawling creatures you might find! I can’t wait to see what the students discover next in the garden!