no safety in numbers

In the light of the moon a little egg lay on a leaf. 

I read this book to my kids and now I’m reading it to my grandkids.  I always enjoyed it but now it churns me up inside … I’ve been rethinking my stance on welcoming wildlife including insects to the garden.  It rather depends on the  numbers involved.

One egg hatching one caterpillar is delightful. But there was nothing delightful about the hundreds of eggs on each leaf of my still young eucalypts. Initially I did what seemed the most sensible thing to do at the time:  just ignore the whole thing.

 After a couple of weeks the leaves on the largest of the small eucalypts become brown and see-through like lace. The same thing was starting to happen to the neighbouring even smaller eucalypts. Time to put on my reading glasses to confront the details.  Horrors! Caterpillars climbing up and down the trunk and on leaves. Hundreds of them. Eggs still unhatched.

Then I saw a spider.  Thank goodness.  Here was a natural predator of  caterpillars that would help keep the numbers down. From the top rung of the ladder I watched in fascination as the spider approached a largish caterpillar. Come on, I said to it encouragingly. At the spider’s approach the caterpillar loomed upwards swaying menacingly. The spider quite sensibly beat a fast retreat back the way it had come.

Hmm ... time to make a plan. I certainly wasn’t going to use chemical sprays.  And I didn’t have the stomach (or finger pressure) to do so much squishing and squashing. So I cut off the affected leaves and put them in the rubbish bin.

Now the tree looks like this.

 Yesterday I watched a cute caterpillar moving along a branch of a grevillea shrub. It was blue and white striped and very cute. So far as I could see it was alone. That meant I could afford to be merciful and generous and choose not to use my power to end its life.  I look forward to seeing it flying around some time soon as a lovely butterfly.


  1. What a good post - and I read that book to my grand-kids too.

  2. I wonder what sort of caterpillars they are? You are more merciful than I . . . with gloves I do squish tent caterpillars . . . though I hate to do it . . . for the trees I must. You would think nature would only create the right numbers for the amount of food. We sometimes have to step in to control the oversights. The Eric Carle Museum is in the valley and I too love the book! Good luck keeping the numbers reasonable in your garden. ;>)

  3. It's a shame how they took your tree apart like that - I hope you don't get any more in that number. I loved reading that book to my kids too.

  4. Yes the attacks on my garden by slaters and earwigs are pretty bad, they have eaten a lot of the broad bean stalks.

    Thanks for your comment on my gardening blog. It should be a nice challenge on my property setting up at garden of my dreams.

    I amy be picking your brain a little.

  5. Like what you have mentioned to me earlier... get rid of pest directly is the way ;-)

    Recently, we experience cloudy sky. My hibiscus got infested with white alphid again. Some how I find wet weather promotes pests attack. I cut those area heavily infested and use pesticide for those mildly infested parts.

    Hope your eucalipts will grow back soon!

  6. Here I thought spider like spiderman is coming to rescue you from those caterpillars. I am reading that book to my kids.

  7. Dear Catmint. Oh yes, the very hungry Caterpillar is such a wonderful treat for small children and so beautifully illustrated. But, what horror with your tree. One can definitely have too much of a bad thing!!

  8. Pathetic spider - what is the world coming too when a predator backs down.
    The worst pests are the ones that travel in large groups. I rarely see a lonely aphid!

  9. Hi Hermes, yes - it must be on it way to becoming a classic.

    Hi Carol, I don't know what kind of caterpillars they are. I was in too much of a frenzy to get the camera. But I did think of you and wondered if you would disapprove because of the butterflies that were prevented from being born. I am so pleased that you think it's OK to keep the numbers reasonable. People talk about culling, maybe that's it. How wonderful that there is a museum devoted to EC!

    Hi Rosie, I'm hoping the tree won't die. Maybe I shouldn't have cut the infested leaves off - will have to wait and see ...

    Hi Kas, I haven't found slaters to be a problem but there was a time one summer when i would wander the garden in the evenings squashing earwigs. One of the wonderful benefits of blotanical is the opportunity of reciprocal brain picking!

    Hi Steph, yes I think wet weather does seem to encourage the pests. But although I always get aphids on the roses this wet season there are not so many and the roses are wonderful!

    Hi MKG, you gave me a good laugh comparing my spider to spiderman. I wish ...

    Hi Edith, thanks for your sympathy, I am still hoping the tree will regenerate. If not, I am already envisaging the area without it. Every (plant) death is an opportunity - I do believe this although I know it makes me seem hard and heartless.

    Hi EG, wonderful comment. I thought the spider was pathetic too, but maybe it went off to recruit some mates ...????

    Cheers, catmint

  10. Eating leaves I can handle. It's when they start on the cake and the lollipop, the cheese and the pickle etc that I start to get a little cranky.

    Yes it's in Imogen's collection too.


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