Sunday, April 17, 2016

Moving Poop Mimic Swallowtails To The Giving Tree

What do you do if you're a tasty caterpillar who hatches in the Spring ... at the same time that thousands of bird parents are busy hunting tasty caterpillars to feed their young?

You become the one thing they avoid.
You become their poop...not really, ...cause that would mean they ate you ... epic fail for you.
You become their "Poop Mimic".

On the leaf above are 2 swallowtail butterfly larvae.
The one on the left is in bird poop stealth mode.
The righterpillar is showing off.

Swallowtail caterpillars ("Cats" for the rest of this post) love to forage on the citrus family. Here at PFHQ...(Pure Florida Head Quarters, nubes)... they like my 5 store-bought citrus trees and my native Hercules Club tree.
The problem with that is that I like them too.

There is a 6th Citrus tree here at PFHQ however, and THAT is where this trio of citrus leaf munching metamorphosissin' Cats are heading.
Citrus tree Number 6 is the tallest, healthiest, foliagastical, tree of them all.
Number 6 sprung from an orange seed spit over the porch rail and into the flower bed below years ago.
I remember spotting it when it was a wee thing and leaving it... just to see what it might do.
With no care, no frost protection, and no fertilizer (except for turtle tank water tossed over the rail at tank cleaning time), this tree has grown taller than the porch roof with a DBH of about 4 inches.
To describe its canopy as "lush" is to damn with faint praise.
Number 6 is also armored with 3 inch long, hard, pointy spikes on every branch and twig.

It has not blossomed yet, so what it will be is a mystery, but almost certainly it will be a sour orange,
...which will be just awesome for my Cuban cooking adventures.

So yes, for a Swallowtail Cat post, I have gone on and on about good ol' Number 6.
That's so you'd realize how megahealthy Number 6 is, since in the picture below I am adding Swallowtail Cats to that very tree.

Several times during the week, I scout the store-bought Satsuma, Kumquat, and Meyer Lemon trees for Cats, and then move them to Number 6.

They like it there.
So many leaves.
So little time.

Here's Spike working out on the SpineFlex.

And here's a nube just added to Number 6. He's about a half inch long.

This Catransporting from my young,expensive, and struggling store-bought citrus to Number 6 is a Win-Win situation for the trees and the Swallowtail Cats. 
My young trees get to keep their leaves and the Cats get more food than they know what to do with while Number 6 is no worse for wear.
In fact, Number 6 proudly wears evidence of last year's success like a trophy.
"Yeah, I did that."
Yes, you did Number 6 ... such a giving tree.


Ms. Moon said...

Love this! I truly do.

lisa said...

Those are some amazing shots! Very interesting. Nice post.

mittens said...

oh what fun. several years ago up here in the chilly Northeast we had an incredible influx of Monarchs, and while the adults don't eat the leaves of the milkweed, the larvae do--there were just not enough milkweeds for the dozens and dozens of larvae to feed on (they have appetites like teenage boys), so I kept transferring them to new fresh plants as soon as they mowed down the ones they were on.
I applaud what you're doing, truly. It's a lot of work and care, but it does make a difference, and as you say, it's a win-win situation.

threecollie said...

How delightful an idea. Good work! The caterpillars are incredible. For me, hearing about your citrus farming is fascinating too. I didn't know that sour orange trees had thorns or that the seeds from regular oranges would grow up to be sour. I have two tiny little citrus growing in the kitchen in a little succulent garden pot. I planted so many orange, grapefruit and lime seeds there before they came that now i don't know which they may be. I'm afraid to transplant them. lol

robin andrea said...

You are the very best steward of the land there. Speaking on behalf of all caterpillars who have found their way into your hands, thank you. P.S. We saw our first Swallowtail of the season here the other day. It was a beautiful Anise. Ah, spring has really begun.

Wally Jones said...

Great post! Those have to be some happy Cats!
But your mention of Sour Oranges and Cuban cooking sure made me immediately smell smoked pork. I just enjoyed a breakfast this morning of strong coffee and toasted Cuban bread with guava preserves so now I'm hungry all over again.

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