Thursday, January 26, 2012

An Ode to Caterpillars

Red Spotted Purple caterpillar
As a cold morning melts into the sunny 40's, a walk in the woods, albeit with a chainsaw, reminds us that spring will eventually be here with the reawakening of the insects that are in hiding.  As a further reminder, Kevin Firth of Friends of the Garden sent me an Ode to Caterpillars.

This NPR Living on Earth interview with Dave Wagner mentions several critical roles that caterpillars play in addition to their final stage as a butterfly or moth that provides beauty to our world and pollination of our plants.  By laying hundreds of eggs, lepidoptera are preparing a smorgasbord.  These eggs and the resultant caterpillars are an important food source for many birds, bats, and other animals.

Less obvious is the caterpillar's indirect contribution to medicine.  As Wagner explains:
"There’s another important role that caterpillars have played. Because plants can’t run away from caterpillars, they’ve evolved a battery of chemicals to protect themselves. Wagner says these secondary chemicals are the basis for drugs and medicines—like opium in poppies and salicylic acid in willows that’s used in aspirin."
It won't be long before we will start to see caterpillars emerge.  When you see the first one, you might want to tell it "thanks".

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