The Very Hungry Caterpillar
I giggled when I saw this little guy earnestly toddle across the outdoor table at the Silver City Store. Robert and I were visiting our mountain cabin, and we sat at the store for a diet coke and a piece of home made pie. (So nutritious!) I immediately pulled out my phone hoping to get a picture of him – and I got more than a picture...wait until you see the video! It’s almost like you were there with me.
He’s a 2 inch long fuzzy caterpillar, with the most distinctive little buttons on his back in gradients from orange to white that wiggle when his little legs scurry across the table. There’s also one bright white dot near his bum, that wags as he walks.
And he has little white perfectly symmetrical fuzzy tufts on both sides of his body that are punctuated with small flexible dark spiny needles. He looks like he could be in a geometry book, with all those angles!
Additionally he has the most fabulous little antennae! They are fuzzy black and ready for prime time. They’re not like wispy barely there butterfly antennae – they are statement antennae with little black knobs on the end that remind me of the busy bee from Best in Show (one of my all time favorite funny movies!). He looks like he could receive space signals with those antennae!
And of course, he has a little tuft of fancy at his back that trails behind as he crawls. Just the cutest little bug you’d ever want to see! I was anxious to look him up to see what kind of beautiful butterfly he would turn out to be.
Ugh. I was so disappointed that I had to tell you about it. It’s like therapy. If I share, maybe it won’t feel so bad.
This caterpillar is the Douglas Fir Tussock Moth.
First, of all – it’s a moth. Ergh. I hate to be mean, but I don’t like moths. They fly in the house at night and have absolutely no sense, bonking into you, and feeling just gross when they do.
Second of all, look at this picture.
I know beauty is in the eye of the beholder – but honestly, I don’t see much beauty going on here. Brown and gray mottled coloring, and that’s just the male on the left. Look at the wingless female on the right. She needs to get out of the kitchen. Her husband is not treating her right.
Third, and this is the worst news of all. This is a predatory moth that kills Douglas Fir trees. The kind of trees that people put in their homes for Christmas. The kind of trees that have beautiful, large architectural pine cones. Sigh.
The Douglas Fir Tussock Moth feeds on these beautiful pines and often causes severe or nearly complete defoliation, which often leads to tree mortality.
The United States Department of Agriculture Forest Service puts it this way: “Forest infestations (by the Douglas Fir Tussock Moth) can be intense, and other species of conifers surrounding Douglas-fir trees are often also defoliated. In urban settings, blue spruce is also attacked. Urban infestations are often confined to individual trees, and the same trees may be attacked year after year, which can cause considerable damage or mortality.” Double Ugh.
Here’s a picture of a forest that has been devastated by the Tussock moth.
The whole experience is depressing. Not just because there are creatures that attack forests and kill these giant beauties. But because I was so excited to find out what wonderful creature lay beneath that cute fuzzy little caterpillar, and I was so bitterly disappointed. But, I think there might be lessons to be learned here too. Let’s see.
First, beauty on the outside doesn’t meant goodness on the inside. That’s obvious. But it’s a good reminder. Second, even the strongest, most resilient living things like pine trees can be felled by the smallest creatures. We need to be wary of the little things that can creep in to destroy our equanimity, our serenity. Lastly, I guess I have to admit that nature is a miraculous biosphere, where all the parts live together to successfully create a whole living organism. I am sure that there are many satisfied birds that feed on the Douglas Fir Tussock Moth.
And I can tell you that I am very happy about that.