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SCV Outdoor Report: A Very Hungry Caterpillar

By Wendy Langhans

Sponsored By:

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 fair. 


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 study, 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 her. 



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 Authority.


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

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 Authority.


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 www.LAMountains.com.