I just recently purchased your calendar for 2006, and the timing couldn’t have been better because now I know where to turn with my rather surprising discovery that a couple of plants in my yard have some visitors. They are green and black striped caterpillars with some white dots, as you can see. There must be about 10 of them on the one plant. I pulled one off for a close-up photo, and he rolled up. They don’t seem to have eaten much of the plant (yet?), but somebody has been eating the purple sage nearby. I assume they’re going to turn into lovely butterflies, so I’m inclined to leave them where they are. But if they pose a problem for the surrounding fruit trees (fig, orange) or vegetables in the backyard, then I might not take as kindly to them. Who are these guys, and what if anything should I do with them? Thanks for your help,
Peter in L.A.
We are thrilled you are enjoying your calendar. According to a photo in our Hogue book, Insects of the Los Angeles Basin, this is a Virginia Lady Caterpillar, Vanessa virginiensis, and according to Hogue: “it is scarce in the basin in comparison to either of the other two species. There are at least three members of the genus Vanessa, known as Ladies, and the Painted Lady and West Coast Lady are the two more common species. The Painted Lady, Vanessa cardui is probably the most well known since it is prone to mass migrations. I have seen hundreds of Painted Ladies on sunny spring days in the desert. The caterpillar food preferences of all three species are similar, and include Hollyhocks, Cheeseweed (Malva parviflora) a common weed found in vacant lots, thistles, and nettles. They will not harm your fruit trees. A fourth member of the genus is known as the Red Admiral, Vanessa atalanta, and was a favorite butterfly of Vladimir Nabokov. Leave the caterpillars be and nature will take its course.