Rent Shop Volunteer Join

Q. Who is Mr. Smarty Plants?

A: There are those who suspect Wildflower Center volunteers are the culpable and capable culprits. Yet, others think staff members play some, albeit small, role. You can torture us with your plant questions, but we will never reveal the Green Guru's secret identity.

Help us grow by giving to the Plant Database Fund or by becoming a member

Did you know you can access the Native Plant Information Network with your web-enabled smartphone?

Share

Ask Mr. Smarty Plants

Ask Mr. Smarty Plants is a free service provided by the staff and volunteers at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

Search Smarty Plants
See a list of all Smarty Plants questions

Please forgive us, but Mr. Smarty Plants has been overwhelmed by a flood of mail and must take a break for awhile to catch up. We hope to be accepting new questions again soon. Thank you!

Need help with plant identification, visit the plant identification page.

 
rate this answer
Not Yet Rated

Saturday - September 29, 2007

From: Houston, TX
Region: Southwest
Topic: Wildlife Gardens
Title: Caterpillars on Carolina buckthorn (Frangula caroliniana)
Answered by: Nan Hampton

QUESTION:

I have a Carolina buckthorn and last year there were interesting looking caterpillars munching on the leaves. They were camouflaged to look a bit like bird droppings. The plant database makes no mention of Carolina buckthorn as being a larval host. What species of caterpillars might they be?

ANSWER:

Mr. Smarty Plants found Carolina buckthorn (Frangula caroliniana—synonym=Rhamnus caroliniana) listed as a host plant for caterpillars of gray hairstreak (Strymon melinus), spring azure (Celastrina ladon), and painted lady (Vanessa cardui) in Caterpillar Food Plants for Central Texas compiled by Mike Quinn, Invertebrate Biologist, at Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. Unfortunately, none of these caterpillars look very much like bird droppings. Another source identified caterpillars of Henry's elfin (Callophrys henrici) feeding on Carolina buckthorn. Again, it would be a stretch of the imagination to confuse these larvae with bird droppings.

At this point, Mr. SP decided it was time to contact the butterfly/caterpillar expert, Mike Quinn, for further insight. He offered a few more caterpillars of Texas butterflies that feed on plants of the genus Rhamnus, but not specifically on Rhamnus caroliniana (=Frangula caroliniana):

Spilosoma vestalis (Family Arctiidae)

Itame guenearia (Family Geometridae)

Pero macdunnoughi (Family Geometridae)

Triphosa californiata (Family Geometridae)

Cnidocampa flavescens (Family Limacodidae)

Celastrina argiolus (Family Lycaenidae)

And, as Mike says: "Arctiids are hairy, geometrids are inchworms, limacodids are generally
bizarre, and lycaenids are slug-like. None in my opinion are particularly bird-dropping like."

Mike pointed out that the classic bird-dropping larvae are those of the swallowtails. The only swallowtail reported to host on plants of the genus Rhamnus is the pale swallowtail (Papilio eurymedon) and it doesn't occur in Texas.

Nick Grishin, a professor at Southwestern Medical Center, suggested your larvae could possibly be sawfly larvae and not butterflies or moths at all. Sawflies are a group of insects in the order Hymenoptera, the same order that contains bees and wasps. Sawfly larvae do resemble butterfly and moth caterpillars and although there is no specific reference to any of them feeding on Carolina buckthorn or other species in the genus Rhamnus, they do feed on shrubs and trees and a few might be said to look a little like bird droppings.

So, these are some possibilities. If none of these looks like "your" larvae, perhaps you will see them again next year and can photograph them to send to Mr. SP for possible identification.

 

More Wildlife Gardens Questions

Foundation plants for Albuquerque.
July 01, 2012 - Hello, I live in Albuquerque. I am looking for some native/xeric low water usage plants for foundation plants for my home. They will be foundation plants for a two story home that has a large ponde...
view the full question and answer

Plant for hummingbirds shelter in Briarcliff TX
August 10, 2009 - I am looking to grow a container plant for the birds to enjoy on my back deck. A little greenery and possibly a place to rest for the birds would be great. This faces west and has no shade. There a...
view the full question and answer

Neighborhood association wanting wildflowers mowed from Grand Prairie TX
July 14, 2013 - For at least 15 years, I have been fostering growth of wildflowers in 60% of my 90x400' yard which include 150' utility trunkline easement in which I can plant no trees. This year, we had volunteer ...
view the full question and answer

Native plants in Denton Co. TX pollinated by bats or hummingbirds
December 07, 2011 - I am looking for a list of Denton Co. TX native plants that are pollinated by bats? Do we have any? How about hummingbirds?
view the full question and answer

Wildflowers for a pond in MO
September 10, 2011 - I have a spring fed pond in Missouri and would like to plant perennial wildflowers in the area around it. Are there any that would do better or others that are not recommended? Thank you.
view the full question and answer

Support the Wildflower Center by Donating Online or Becoming a Member today.