Thursday, August 25, 2011

Caterpillar ID

I am a would-be naturalist. I would be one except that every time I try to identify a snake, lizard, or turtle I can't distinguish one brown creature from the next. Though we stock our shelves with field guides, I only find them helpful in learning more about the birds or moths I already know.

Today we found a three inch caterpillar in the grass. Naturally, it's coloring didn't seem to match any other caterpillar we could find pictured on the internet. This is why I can't be a naturalist. Here the caterpillar is, making his way around the old butterfly cage:

Arden first reported that the caterpillar had no eyes. Then Arden returned, laughing, he had been looking at the wrong end. Hilarious.

I immediately thought of tomato horn worms. I have terrible memories of plucking hundreds of tomato horn worms from my garden in Colorado. There's just one problem: this guy isn't really the same color, nor the color of any other cataloged caterpillar.

There is help, even for a naturalist as ignorant as I. We stumbled upon a website by the Alabama Cooperative Extension System designed to help even an idiot identify their child's latest acquisition. If you scroll all the way down the page, there's a simple diagram of a caterpillar followed by a series of questions to identify your specimen, based on how many abdominal prolegs it has. If you're like me, refer back to the drawing once (maybe even twice) to figure out what an abdominal proleg is.

We think, perhaps, our friend is a tobacco hornworm. I can call him our friend. Our garden has been dead for several weeks. And he's moved in with our family. All of the budding naturalists can sleep happy under our roof tonight.

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