Mimesis

Abbotts sphinx caterpillar

At first sighting as shocking as a tiny dinosaur, this Abbott’s sphinx (Sphecodina abbottii) caterpillar was hidden among the Virginia creeper on my back porch. Turns out the adult of this species is a bumble bee mimic, not only because it’s colouring is dark and yellow but because it buzzes in flight too.

The larva feeds on members of the grape family, which has led some biologists to speculate that the green patterning is mimicry too–of grapes. Nabokov would be pleased. I always find it amazing to find such colourful and strange creatures right in the city.

My background, which is about 15′ X 13′, has yielded a jungle-worth of insect life. All it takes, it seems, is a few native plants (including Virginia creeper and a whole lot of milkweeds and cone flowers). The tiny monarch caterpillars I found on my milkweeds were hardly bigger than a nail-clipping, but perfectly formed. I’m sorry to report that all eleven of them were killed by ants. Next summer I’ll find a way to enclose them for their protection. My Queen Anne’s lace have been popular with swallowtail butterfly caterpillars, which also look like some kind of strange prehistoric monster.

 

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