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SCV Outdoor Report: A Very Hungry Caterpillar

By Wendy Langhans



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My grandmother had quite a reputation as a gardener.  In part, I think it was of necessity:  during the Depression she had seven hungry
children to feed, not to mention a husband, hired man, and occasional hungry
hobo or two.  But I think her garden was
also a labor of love. As a young girl, I remember her house was surrounded by
flowers and she sometimes took me to see the flower arrangements at the local


Her flower garden was side-by-side with her vegetable
garden.   As a child, I used to think it
was so she would have something pretty to look at while she worked in the
vegetable garden.  Later, after I studied
biology, I thought it had to do with pollination; the bees were attracted by
the flowers and stuck around to pollinate the vegetables.  But recently published studies suggest there
may have been another hidden benefit – protection from hungry caterpillars.




According to a recent European
, some caterpillars have fine sensory hairs that allow them to detect
vibrations in the air.  Caterpillars are
voracious eating machines and can do great damage to a vegetable garden.  But according to this study, when a caterpillar
detects the approach of a wasp or honeybee, it stops eating, stops moving and,
as a last-ditch attempt at survival, drops down from the plant. 





However, these caterpillars cannot tell the difference
between a carnivorous wasp and a honeybee searching for pollen or nectar.  So the honeybee helps the plants in two
ways:  pollination and protection from
leaf-munching caterpillars.


My grandmother was a wise woman.  So I wonder if she noticed less caterpillar
damage when she planted her flowers next to her vegetables.  I wish she were still here so I could ask



Upcoming Outdoor Events: 


Saturday, January 17, 8:00-10:00
AM.  Morning Bird Hike in Towsley
Canyon.  Towsley
Canyon is a year-round home for
birds.  They like our Mediterranean
climate, the local bounty and the California
sunshine.  Bring your binoculars and meet
at the entrance.  Heavy rain
cancels.  For map and directions go here.

Sponsored by the Mountains Recreation and Conservation


Saturday, January 24, 10-12
AM.  Fire Ecology Hike in Wilson

Heavy rain cancels – call the day before to confirm
(310-858-7272 x 115).  For map and
directions go here.

Sponsored by the Mountains Recreation and Conservation


Saturday, January 10th and 24th, and every Wednesday, 8:00 AM.  Trail Maintenance Volunteers at Towsley Canyon.

Come join our trail maintenance volunteers for camaraderie
and a heart-thumping workout.  For more information contact Steve Ioerger at 661-291-1565.



You can listen to stories like this every Friday morning at 7:10 a.m. on "The Hike Report",
brought to you by your hometown radio station KHTS (AM1220) and by the
Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority.


For the complete MRCA hike and activity schedule and for
trail maps, click here or go to

SCV Outdoor Report: A Very Hungry Caterpillar

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