Continuing with the theme of cute animals, I was in Chattanooga today and took time out for a bike ride along the Riverwalk. Young animals from two very different parts of the tree of life caught my attention.
This mixed brood of Canada goose goslings was making its way upstream along the Tennessee River. There are at least two families, possibly three, in this “crèche.” Mixing families like this is common in waterfowl, although less so among Canada geese. There is safety in numbers, so these goslings benefit from each other’s presence.
This pipevine swallowtail caterpillar was crossing the concrete path. Although it looks fearsome, it is harmless to handle. But any would-be predator foolish enough to try to eat the caterpillar will soon regret its decision. These caterpillars feed on poisonous pipevine plants and sequester the toxins in their bodies. The toxins then get passed to the adult butterfly. The adult tastes so nasty that half a dozen other species of butterfly mimic the butterfly’s blue and black colors, gaining protection through deception. Predators generally leave these mimics alone for fear of biting into a pipevine swallowtail. The photo below is from last summer — note the remarkable iridescent blue. Although I frequently encounter the adults I have never before seen the caterpillar. So a close encounter with this bristly rubbery beast made my day. I put it back in the vegetation, away from the walkway.