Updated: Jan 9, 2021
The once verdant green leaves of many of our trees are turning into brilliant, warm hues of yellow, orange, red and brown – a sure sign that autumn is here.
This iconic spectrum of warm colours is trigged by a change in temperature and available light, causing trees to stop creating the green pigment called chlorophyll. Chlorophyll helps trees to create food through sunlight and because there is less light and maintaining leaves is costly for the tree, it is more efficient for them to shed the leaves, rather than maintaining them.
The bed of dropped leaves is of great benefit to our native wildlife such as small mammals, amphibians and invertebrates. Many of our caterpillars from moths and butterflies use the available leaf bed to safely pupate for the coming years, meaning the leaflitter is surprisingly a nursery for next year’s emerging butterflies and moths!
When many caterpillars are large enough, they will take to the ground to find shelter amongst the leaves, spinning a cocoon which will lead to one of nature’s great marvels – metamorphosis!
Over time, the pupating caterpillar will create a protective casing called a pupa. Inside the pupa, enzymes will break down the caterpillar, dissolving most of its body into a liquid with exception of some of some of its brain matter - forming a strange kind of brain soup! Cell division begins in this soup, gradually rebuilding into the structure of a butterfly or moth and eventually emerging from the pupa the following year!
Incredibly, despite being rebuilt from a liquid, the butterfly or moth may retain memories from its time spent as a caterpillar! If you want to help our native insects, let those leaves linger on your lawns – our invertebrates (and your back) will be grateful!
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