Tomorrow (Saturday, October 24) is the Inside Austin Gardens tour presented by the Travis County Master Gardener Association. All of the yards featured are National Wildlife Federation Certified Wildlife Habitats, which means they are happy places for plants and animals.
I haven't yet certified my yard (it's on the list!) but I have made it a happy place for some animals, caterpillars in particular. (Of course, I've also inadvertently at times made it a happier place for one larger animal in particular.)
Of course, I would also like to make the yard a happier place for me, and that's where I think a few etiquette lessons for my new friends, the caterpillars, are appropriate.
First, you're welcome to any of the herbs I planted for you. And cheers to you for choosing the rue, which I only bought because I liked its foliage. I have no idea of its culinary uses.
Second, thanks for sticking around so I can see you metamorphisize through your various instars. You started here, also known as the bird shit stage (or I guess, if we are talking etiquette here, it should be the bird sh*t, bird poop, or maybe even bird "we don't discuss this in public").I found this stage to be very inventive, hiding you from potential predators who think you're just one of the above.
Third, I loved, loved, loved seeing you in your third instar stage. You're looking so cute! And there are so many of you!
How is it having 30 first cousins? Maybe though you could find another place to poop? Even though it's cute little caterpillar frass, it's still frass.Fourth, ah! Wow, behold the black swallowtail caterpillar.
Fifth, here's where we encounter the etiquette challenge. Generally, when I invite animals into my yard, I do so with an open heart and expect little in return, but let's not confuse little with nothing.
My stripped-bare rue has started to regrow in the areas you ate to the stems. And as I mentioned, I doubt really have much of a use for it. But the quid pro quo for providing food for you and putting up with your frass is that you stick around as a butterfly so I get to see how in all your glory. I'm not saying you aren't adorable as a caterpillar, but the whole metamorphosis thing would be pretty cool to see.
Leaving with nary a chrysalis in sight is not all that polite.
Sixth, you might want to take a lesson or two from your intraspecies friends, the gulf fritillary caterpillar. These guys munched on my passionflower vine and stuck around to form a pupa. Just look at this guy:
These caterpillars also returned to the yard as butterflies, the cute little pairs diving and flitting about. They even played chase with the dog. I know y'all can't write thank you notes so I happily accept the flybys as your token of gratitude.
Seventh, if, of course, your absence is a sign that your camouflage failed to protect you and that you got decapitated by a wasp, like this one of you, all is forgiven.
And in your honor, I will be offering future etiquette lessons for the wasps on to decapitate or not to decapitate.