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But the worms don't care as they keep on munching.

The Daily Bucket is a place where we post and exchange our observations about what is happening in the natural world. Birds, blooms, bugs & more - each note is a record that we can refer to in the future as we try to understand the patterns that are quietly unwinding around us.
End of August 2013

The Catalpa tree, a southern speciality, is often found around century-old homesteads in North Florida where folks planted them for the sole purpose of having summertime fishbait. Nothing brings in a catfish better than a fat finger of juicy catawba worm. And tough skins make it hard for fish to steal off a hook.

This is the Catawba worm. Defoliation is its role in life, its primary function.

I found this stand of trees out on SR-20 that goes along the southside of Lake Talquin west of Tallahassee. Been watching these trees for a couple weeks now and feel lucky to have this chance to observe. This is on the way to the abode of ex-1, and even tho I'm there to work with middle daughter, being near ex-1 is not something to be taken lightly. At least the workshop is separated from the "danger zone."

These worms however are social, they like to hang out together.
Ahhh - an afternoon yawn.....

A little bit about this southern tree and these caterpillars from Mother Earth News

Like many things in nature, the tree and worm depend on each other. The host catalpa tree is the only plant the worm eats, which it can devour to naked branches without harming the tree. According to Stephen L. Peele, curator of the Florida Mycology Research Center, catalpa trees are sometimes completely defoliated three or four times during a single summer, yet survive. No other tree could withstand this. “They always come back. They always look healthy,” says Peele. “I have tried to understand the possible symbiotic relationship between the worm and the tree. There surely must be one.”
More about these masters of munching below the copious pile of orange frass.

The Southern Catalpa (Catalpa bignonioides) has a limited range across the Deep South from Alabama to North Florida. The Northern Catalpa is not that northern and has a much smaller range - bottomland near the confluence of the Mississippi and Ohio rivers. Both trees however have been widely planted outside their natural range.

The worm is the last instar of the Catalpa Sphinx Moth (Ceratomia catalpae). The adult is a boring brown and easily overlooked. There are 1-5 generations a year and after hatching, larvae will pupate in a few weeks. It's all about how much they can eat. The catalpa leaves are palm-sized; plenty of matter to munch.

Some wiki-facts:  

The larval stage of Ceratomia catalpae is known as the Catalpa or Catawba Worm. When first hatching, the larvae are a very pale color, but become darker toward the last instars. The yellow caterpillars will usually have a dark, black stripe down their back along with black dots along their sides. There is also a "pale" phase where the black striping is not as prevalent or missing altogether and a shade of white has replaced it. They grow to a length of about 5 cm (2 in) and feed on the leaves of the Northern Catalpa and, more commonly, the Southern Catalpa, also known as Catawba or Indian Bean trees.
Actually they can get quite fat. I've seen them as big as my little finger. By the time they fatten up tho, there are few remaining.

This is a fun site, this person really enjoys the catawbas.  

The Catalpa Tree is remarkable to me in many ways, it represents a time frame during native American history that stretches into our back yards today. My heritage draws me to pursue the phenomenal domain of the catalpa tree, the mysterious catalpa worm, the beautiful flowering blooms and tons and tons of FRASS.
Frass is right. I kept a hat on and my mouth shut as I pointed the camera up. All those stripped leaves had to go somewhere.

While I was stopped on the lane to take pictures, this old guy walked up. He told me of seeing birds hunt for these tasty worms. The underside of a leaf is supposed to be a safe spot. He said he harvested some the day before to freeze for later use. After watching the worms for awhile I noticed they crawled fast when exposed along a stem or branch. These photos taken in the heat of the day show the worms hanging out on the leaf veins.

ZOMBIE Catawbas - preyed upon by wasps

Wasp attack viciously and easily insert their eggs into the inside of the catalpa worms. The eggs quickly gobble up the insides of the catalpa worm and at the same time the catalpa continues to munch on the catalpa leaf. By the time the catalpa eats a couple more leaves the wasp are eating their way through the worm to reach the sunlight, they emerge to the outside of the catalpa worm and the catalpa worm continues to munch on that leaf.
When I was looking for content to go with these photos, I found the search results amusing. Search on catawba and first result is for catalpa. Who says Google ads aren't smart - or well-trained at least. I see Auburn Univ. went both ways with names. And what is it with all these worms for sale? Catawba Worms on eBay?

Younger catalpas prefer to hang out together under the leaf since the chance of survival is probably better at that age if they stay together. I think these are practicing their alphabet, or assuming the fishhook position for the old guy down the street.

Here is what the pods look like. They are a foot or more long. Lower left is a pod from last year that has opened and in the center is one from this year that's still a little green.

It was surprising to open a pod later and not see peas or beans. Instead it is full of flat seeds similar to the samara of an ash tree but softer.

Somewhat related in a wormy way is this wonderful bucket about hornworms by 'burnt out' from a year ago.

The end.... well I was gonna show a catawba butt, but I don't know which end that is. Bug Guide neglected to mention that but Auburn Univ. clarifies that the horn is on the rear of the worm. Now I wonder why so many are hanging upside down.

The Daily Bucket is now open for your thoughts and observations...


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