Sep 022020
 

I’ve just read the recent post about caterpillars and thought you would like to hear our story about mullein moth caterpillars.

Last year, before lock down, we bought a mullein plant from Lullingstone Roman villa. Mullein is part of our native British flora, sadly not so often seen now in our world of highly intensive agriculture.

We planted it out in early spring and sat back to watch it thrive. When it had grown to about 3 feet tall and had produced some early flower spikes, we were amazed to see one day that it was covered in these yellow, black and white caterpillars.

 

Over the next few days, though, they almost destroyed the plant, munching its broad, downy leaves back to the stem and feasting on the flower buds.

We thought the plant had met its doom but once most of the edible material was gone, the caterpillars disappeared overnight, eaten we hoped by birds.

And then the most remarkable recovery happened. The plant didn’t die as we thought it must but quickly produced new leaves and new flower spikes and buds and became a very healthy, large, flower- covered plant that is only just now coming to the end of its life.

When we read up about the moth, it seems its caterpillars drop off when they’re ready to pupate, so ours were probably not eaten by birds at all but are in the soil around the plant waiting for the life cycle to start all over again. Mullein is probably adapted to survive attacks by this moth and able to regenerate. After all, it wouldn’t be a good survival strategy for the moth if its caterpillars completely destroyed the plant! We have had mullein in the garden before but have never seen the caterpillars. Alan told Stuart he had only ever caught one mullein moth in his nightly moth trap, so we’re now wondering if the eggs were already on the plant when we bought it. So maybe we have imported a new mullein moth colony into our garden.

Isn’t nature wonderful!

Rosemary

Thanks to Rosemary for sending this and pictures of the caterpillars. Thanks to Alan for sending the photograph of the mullein moth he caught in his garden and thanks to Sally for the photo of the Mullein plant taken at Dartford Heath.

Malcolm

 Posted by on 2 September 2020 at 2:18 pm

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