questionsgardeners' challenge: can anyone identify this…

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horvathian ear slug.

or...looks like a snail without it's shell.

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Ewwwww.

Okay, some questions: Is it soft and gooey, like a slug? Soft and squishable like a caterpillar? Hard like beetle? Does it have any visible legs or antennae? Which end of it -- the slim end or the knobby end -- is the head? Have you seen one like it before? Does it seem to be interested in anything other than the lemon tree?

Maybe your county's agriculture department? Or what is called here the Ag Extension Services office?

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@carl669: That's what I thought. But I thought those were called "slugs" and I googled for slugs and none of the images looked like these guys at all. My friend thinks it's some kind of caterpillar due to its segmented appearance, but it's too...gooey looking... to be a caterpillar to me and it's head is snail-like.

@magic cave: They were squishy, not crunchy at all. The end that looks like a head is the head. It doesn't leave a slime trail. It doesn't seem to have any legs, but it tends to hump a bit when it crawls. I eats fast-- I have kept one alive in a baggie in case I needed it and it eats a whole leaf every day. I am going to have to kill it soon as my little lemon tree doesn't have many leaves to spare for feeding it. I tired giving it an ivy leaf and it didn't eat it. Some kind of very leafy weed had sprung up in the planter with the lemon tree and I have let it grow because it's pretty (and contained in the pot). These guys took a few bites out of it but not much.

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To me it looks like a nymph of some sort but it's hard to tell exactly which kind without seeing legs and head.

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Looks like a slug to me, but there are a zillion and one kinds of slugs. Yes, zillion is the official number. I'm still waking up, and I suspect this particular lemon tree devourer is local to your environment, but while you wait, here's a couple of handy dandy places to help identify it.

http://www.insectidentification.org/
http://www.whatsthatbug.com/
http://www.whatsthatbug.com/category/snails-and-slugs/

Please note that these sites are not for the delicate, nor the squeamish. The first site is easier to search, and you'll probably find it there. I'd still go to the local agricultural dept/master gardener/other source for the best information on what it is, and what to do, though.

[Edit. Hmmm. Bugfinder doesn't seem to handle slugs and snails and others lacking legs.]

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@shrdlu: Thanks. I went and looked at those sites and saw a couple of slugs that looked slightly like it. I suspect it isn't a local bug, I live in the desert and we don't have soft bugs like this, they can't keep their moisture. Our bugs tend to be hard and segmented and most bite or sting. It's an aggressive environment, even the plants are sharp. I have had the lemon tree since the spring, I am wondering if these things weren't attached to it as eggs or larvae when I bought it and were roused by the heavy rains we have had in the past few weeks (it's monsoon season). I looked at the other vulnerable plants in the yard, mostly some canary melon plants, and nothing else seems bitten. I may have successfully gotten them all on the first pass.

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I found it! Googling" slug lemon tree" produced an answer. Its a Giant Swallowtail Butterfly larvae. Now I feel really bad about killing them. But my lemon tree is too little to sustain these hungry guys. It only has maybe 50 leaves and they eat a leaf a day.

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@moondrake: Wow! Good for you! Master Detective of the Week!

(Er, you have monsoon seasons? Huh. Another entry for the "who knew?" list.)

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@moondrake: Hooray for the search success! Don't feel bad about killing them. You have to choose between lemon tree and bug; unless you're planning to just keep lemon trees to feed the larvae, it's best to do what you did. I believe your assumption that the eggs were there when you bought the tree is correct. They might not have survived as adult butterflies in any case.

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@magic cave: We call it the monsoon season, I don't know if that's an accurate use of the word. We get roughly 95% of our annual 9.7" of rainfall from late July to mid-September. We are at a high elevation so even though the weather is hot, the rain is cool or cold. It usually comes down hard and fast, often doing significant damage. We lost a half dozen homes to flash floods in late August. We often have zero rainfall from around January through June. Just last week I saw something I'd never seen before. I was leaving work for a meeting, and I was admiring the spectacularly backlit cloud formations in the bright blue western sky. I glanced east and there was a wall of grey advancing fast straight down the street toward me, dry ground being swallowed by rain. There was a flat line in the sky back there, clear blue and hard grey. I rushed to get into the car but wasn't fast enough, and was drenched immediately in the front wave of the intense mini-storm.

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@moondrake: Arizona?

We here in Las Vegas get the leftover Monsoons from Arizona.

For people that don't know Monsoons = no rain.. all the rain.. no rain

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Don't worry about killing them - the universe will balance everything out.

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@moondrake: Thank you for the explanation. My poor brain was curfuzzled with conflicting images of "Arizona" and "monsoon."

Down here, we have the "summer rainy season," which is alternatively described as having lots of monsoon-like rain alternating with hot-humid-dry days and hot-drizzly-depressing days, with occasional emergency-flood-warning days. This season starts sometime in June and runs through August, often (like right now) extending well into September.

After the rainy season, North Florida gets an unnamed transitional period lasting from four to six weeks, then come our beloved four-days-of-Fall, followed soon after by pseudo-Winter, which peaks in January. Then come a few more transitional weeks, ending with the highly anticipated nine-days-of-Spring, which turns abruptly into hot-too-hot-too-fscking-hot, which in turn ends with the summer rainy season.

When I was a kid, I thought it was hard to learn the liturgical seasons of the Episcopal Church. Little did I know.

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@spacezorro: Far west Texas. Drier than most of AZ, much higher elevation (3,800 feet, with my house on the side of the mountain probably pushing 4,000). We are in the Chihuahuan Desert, the land type is called high desert mesa.

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@moondrake:
Amog the things I love best about Tony Hillerman's Indian mystery series are the descriptions of the landscapes and weather patterns like yours. In the right spot you can watch the weather coming across great distances.

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In the future, you could research what other plants/trees that those specific caterpillars will eat, and transfer them if possible. Or, you could head over to this butterfly forum and find out if someone is in your area that raises caterpillars. You'd be surprised how many people might be willing to take them. I raise Black Swallowtails & Monarchs.

http://forums.gardenweb.com/forums/butterfly/

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@flamingonut: I did some research and it seems that they mostly like citrus, which is very scarce around here. They almost certainly came with the lemon tree when I bought it in the spring and were dormant till recently. I had already killed two of the three I found, thinking it was some kind of common garden pest -- and exercising the usual human selection for beautiful things. The third that I'd saved for my investigation I took to a park and released. I wouldn't bet on its chances, there were no citrus trees in the park, and I don't imagine any close by. I know of only two in a square mile of my house, my tiny one and one down the street that's trying to recover from a catastrophic freeze. I didn't feel right releasing this hungry guy on either of them. Hopefully this little one will find something in the park it can eat. I had never heard of a caterpillar shelter before. I'll look for one next time for sure.