Sunday, October 8, 2017

When It's Not Poop

A friend recently gave me a Dictamnus plant out of her garden.  Right on top was a very interesting stowaway.


What looked like a giant bird dropping on a leaf was no dropping at all...


It is actually the caterpillar of a  Giant Swallowtail Butterfly - one we don't commonly see this far north!  It uses its disguise of bird poop to avoid getting eaten by predators.

Giant Swallowtail Butterfly caterpillar
It's not the only one that masquerades as a turd for extra protection. Several different types of Swallowtail caterpillars look somewhat like bird droppings in their early phases.

Black Swallowtail caterpillar
Similarly, I don't think any predator would find the appearance of this Hover Fly larvae appetizing...

Hover Fly larvae - ugly in appearance, but very beneficial as it eats aphids
Along these lines, I noticed a new visitor to my veggie garden this year that I called the 'poop bug' until I finally looked up its true name.


It is really called the Clavate Tortoise Beetle.  I can see why it is called that, as the dark markings really do look kind of like a miniature tortoise - but I still think it looks even more like bird poop.

Clavate Tortoise Beetle (aka Poop Bug)
These beetles like plants in the nightshade family, including tomatoes, but thankfully don't usually do a lot of damage.


I think it's really awesome how nature uses camouflage to protect caterpillars and other critters from predators.  As interesting as it is, though, I think I'm ready to see some wildlife that doesn't look like poop.


Ah, much better!
Happy gardening (and critter watching)!

21 comments:

  1. I recently saw a giant swallowtail butterfly in my garden; it was huge! Perhaps I have seen the caterpillar and did not recognize it. Nature is amazing!

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    1. I've only seen one that I remember, and it was so incredibly big! Such a beauty!

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  2. Ha! That's cute. Yes, hummingbirds are a nice alternative to bird-dropping-looking larva, although the latter are fascinating, aren't they? I've only seen Giant Swallowtail caterpillars while hiking, and I've only seen Giant Swallowtail butterflies a few times--and those times were in my garden! I didn't see any last year or this year, although others in my area have reported seeing them this year. They are huge! Up to a seven-inch wingspan! It's hard to describe the grace of their flight, isn't it?!

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    1. Such gorgeous butterflies! I've only seen one that I remember, and that was down south. They are quite rare up here!

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  3. Lucky you! It's not often we get to say that to someone who has accidentally imported a bug, or poop. How wonderful! Congratulations on photographing a hummingbird - mine always end up looking like flying turds!

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    1. Thanks! Hummingbirds are definitely tricky - I always get lots of blurry shots to go with the one or two nice ones!

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  4. I also had the bird poop this year and it ate most of the eaves on my lemon! My son emailed me that he had one too, on his citrus, in Arizona. Such a fun little caterpillar.

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    1. It's an interesting combination of plant leaves that they like - citrus and gas plant!

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  5. Hello Indie!
    Pests are a big problem in my garden.
    I do not use any chemistry because my garden is ecological.
    Indie! The last photo is perfect.
    Greetings.
    Lucja

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    1. It's so great to get wildlife like this in the garden, isn't it? That's the problem with so many pesticides - they kill the good bugs as well as the bad.

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  6. Very interesting and definitely not a load of poop.

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  7. Oh, that is so cool! I'm jealous - I have only seen black swallowtail cats here, though I have host plants for several others.

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    1. I don't usually notice caterpillars very often, but this guy was huge!

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  8. Good heavens, I'm pretty sure I'd have whacked those caterpillars and then we'd have no pretty swallowtails. Gosh, they are really, really ugly, aren't they? I've never seen anything similar, or maybe I thought it was poop? Nature is truly amazing. :-)

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    1. Definitely a case of the ugly duckling turning into a swan! The butterfly looks much, much prettier than the caterpillar, thankfully!

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  9. Very interesting! Nature sure figures things out well. Thanks for the last shot.

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  10. Masquerading as a turd -- thanks for the gut-busting laugh. In my ignorance, I once knocked a Giant Swallowtail "turd" off my citrus tree. I now know better.

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  11. What a fantastic shot of the hummingbird! I haven't seen a hummingbird here since last week, so I have a feeling they have finished passing through. Nature is pretty amazing; if I was a bird, I'd think twice about eating something that looked like poop, too:)

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  12. How long does it take for the poop to turn into a Giant Swallowtail Butterfly?

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  13. I love this posting, Indie! Very informative and great pics. And that hummingbird photo is amazing. BTW -- I think they have left PA for the winter, too. P. x

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