Saturday, September 1, 2012

A creepy story

A couple of days ago, I started off around noon to take the dogs for a walk in my friend and neighbour's bush lot - much cooler there than in the hot sun of my pasture I figured. Especially at that time of day.

We arrived and I parked the car, then let the dogs out only to hear chain saws. I put the dogs back in the car and called out.

An answering response had me walking along the trail which has become something of its original purpose once more: a logging road. This bush as I have mentioned in the past is suffering the loss of its beech trees from beech bark disease. My friend's son and his buddy were out cutting down trees that were obviously diseased and bucking them up for use as future firewood.

"Come here," he said. He was standing just off the logging road. "Tell me what you make of this."

He showed me a small beech sapling - about six feet tall, its trunk and a couple of limbs covered in something white, and woolly looking. I got closer. As I looked at it puzzling, was it a fungus, was it some sort of mould bloom? I realized that it was moving, and along one of the branches, still covered with small bits of white woolly-looking stuff, a huge white furry caterpillar was meandering. It had large black "lashes" or spikes sticking out of its head and from its other end.

"Holy smoke," was my instant reaction. "I've never seen anything like this before."
 It was obviously an infestation of caterpillars - were these the eggs these small white blotchy things?

So I walked the dogs quickly as the fellows took a break and then spent an hour searching on the internet.

At first I thought it was a Hickory Tussock Moth caterpillar, then I thought it was something else, but finally on searching through many caterpillar photos, I think it is an American Dagger Moth caterpillar - or I should say caterpillars.

All those little white blotches - as I went back to get photos - they were moving! Talk about creepy crawly.

I finally figured they were the first one or two segments of baby caterpillars.

What I did learn in my search through the internet though was that these things have voracious appetites, live on the leaves of nut trees, also maple (I guess maple keys or sort of like nuts) oak, beech and chestnut. They are also venomous - or at least the lashes are - those black things sticking out of the head and tail... so all information said don't touch, use leather or thick gloves or you could get a rash from the black spines. Once again - holy smoke!

When I was taking the video below, I kept thinking, what if those things fell on me - got inside my tee-shirt? I got a case of creepy crawlies and kept shuddering as I backed away from the little tree and carefully left the area.
I'm not afraid of things like this but there sure were a lot of these little critters... wonder how big they are today after two days of being able to forage on the surrounding leaves...wonder if there are any leaves left nearby. Must chat with my friend.

What a strange way to begin a long weekend don't you think?  Interesting though... never would have known about this creature if I hadn't started to take a walk in the woods at that time of day on that day. Life and nature have a lot to teach obviously.

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