Sunday, September 2, 2012

Bird on a Worm

Carolina wren with caterpillar

Well, it’s a bird on a caterpillar actually. 

Caterpillar poop. Different colors - neat!

This week I saw another reminder that caterpillars exist for a reason, and that nature in balance tries to stay in balance. I had noticed green caterpillars on my cardinal flower (Lobelia cardinalis) earlier this week (who could miss those piles of poop?). They looked similar to caterpillars I’d seen on my goldenrod (Solidago).

But I figured I would not bother them because I have plenty of Lobelia and could afford to share. Besides, a green anole lizard was lurking nearby and I hoped he’d have one for a snack.

Then two wrens noticed the caterpillars and they swooped in for a mini-feast. They ate about 6 of them, giving me plenty of time to grab my camera and take pictures from inside the house. I watched them hop up to the Lobelia, search for one, grab it and then bring it back down to the ground to wrestle it around a bit and eat it.

Shaking it around a bit
Which part to eat first?

Looking around on the web (where it is surprisingly easy to search for pictures of “green caterpillar” and get a bunch of pictures to peruse), I decided it is some type of “looper” caterpillar, perhaps Chrysodeixis chalcites. Loopers are named for the loops they make while moving around and are actually spread among a number of genera.

Looper on the Lobelia
The birds were in and out of there so fast that if I hadn’t been looking, I would not have seen them. I went out later and looked long and hard before I finally spotted a couple of leftovers. The birds know that you have to let a few of them grow up to make more.

So if you find caterpillars, be not discouraged – in fact, be happy! Some hungry birds are sure to come along and help you out.


  1. I love seeing birds beat and shake a worm or caterpillar to death, not that I'm a masochist, I just think it's funny and cute. I bet those wrens sure are glad you don't use any pesticides!

  2. I agree with Julie, the nuthatches here really whack the caterpillars around, upside down of course. Nice find Ellen! Miss seeing Carolina Wrens...

  3. Thank you this piece that stimulated my inner accidental researcher! So thirty minutes later I have come up for air, much more aware of this variety of caterpillar. Is a looper a true caterpillar? Yes! Do any become butterflies at the end of their pupal phase, or strictly moths? The latter! Do moths also chew on plants or not? No. They strictly suck nectar!

    But mostly, I like your emphasis on allowing the balance of nature to flow, rather than interrupting it with, in this case, killing loopers that may damage veggie garden plants. Many gardeners these days do avoid pesticides by using a bucket of soapy water or some such. If I do anything, I prefer a relocation program to another area in the garden.