I’m going to jump right in to say that this week there was another great sighting at Andrew’s farm this week! I was cutting flowers and heard Andrew in another field, yell out in pain, and then he said “Have you ever gotten stung by one of these Saddleback caterpillars??”
Flashback eight years ago: I’m taking my first walk in the Wissahickon with some friends who already lived in Philly. I was considering moving here, but hadn’t officially made up my mind. As we started out on our walk, I happened to look down and saw a very small Saddleback caterpillar on some weeds. A little bit of backstory: I had recently discovered the world of caterpillars and moths, had begun to memorize my Caterpillars of Eastern North America field guide, and was floored at the sight of this tiny insane creature. I hadn’t lived in a big city before and the fact that I could spot a strange and unique caterpillar in the woods in the middle of the city, made Philadelphia seem more attractive. Today was the second time I’ve seen a Saddleback caterpillar.
A few fun facts about the Saddleback caterpillar:
- Armed with stinging spines- it’s sting may be the most potent of any other North American caterpillar. The length and diameter of its stinging spines are considerably greater than those of others in the region. (It’s sting is similar to that of stinging nettle.)
- Adult larvae tend to be solitary- some of its tropical relatives stay in clusters as adults.
- It belongs to the family of slug caterpillars (Limacodidae) which have medial suckers instead of legs, so they glide rather than crawl.
- There are about 30 species of slug caterpillars in eastern North America. More than 120 species occur in Costa Rica (Wagner).
Maybe these tangents about caterpillars and slugs don’t seem related to the matter at hand- beautiful, fresh, locally-grown flowers. However, to me they’re all related because I’ve gotten to know certain insects and flowers in a similar way. They’re both around everywhere all the time, many different varieties and species all blurred together in different places. Then with just a little bit of basic learning and awareness, they come into focus. The black swallowtail comes into focus on a dill plant in the garden. A stem of white chicory comes into focus on a walk around the block. The more those common and abundant species come into focus, the more I become attune to noticing the less common species, which are sometimes satisfyingly small and alien-looking. If you’re interested in bringing into focus some of your surroundings, I highly recommend The Sibley Field Guide to Birds of Eastern North America, Caterpillars of Eastern North America, Seashells of North America, and Peterson Field Guide to Moths of Northeastern North America. Just like any other study, the bringing-into-focus process takes time and patience.
Thanks again for your enthusiasm and support of local flowers and my small business. This flower project is small, made up of six days worth of cutting, writing and arranging flowers for you all. I’ve found it to be a fitting expression of my belief in the importance of noticing flowers, bringing them inside to cozy up ones home, buying them from local flower-growing friends, and sharing them. Hopefully it brings into focus a corner of your world that maybe would stay blurry otherwise.
In your bouquet this week: