16 Feb 2012science


We saw something cool on the way to work this morning. It turns out that they’re considered pests in this part of the world, but a five metre string of nose-to-tail caterpillars counts as cool in my books even if they are pests. Apparently, these little critters make nests high in pine trees (we think we saw the nest– looked like a big ball of spiderweb), then troop down the tree and off into the world to make caterpillary mischief of one sort or another.

We first spotted the caterpillar chain coming out onto the pavement as we were walking up to Rita’s office. Keeping Winnie well out of the way (Rita takes her to work a couple of days a week), since the caterpillars are hairy and would be bad news for a little dog’s nose, we had a good look at what was going on. The caterpillars really were stuck nose-to-tail, wriggling their way along to who knows where.

Most of them were meeting a sad fate on the pavement, as they got stepped on and squashed, so leaving a confusing pile of caterpillar guts that led the caterpillars behind to make strange loops and knots of themselves as they could no longer tell where to go.

Still caterpillars!

Still caterpillars!

We followed the trail of caterpillars inside the fence to the tree they were coming from. The trail stretched all the way through the pine needle litter from the tree to the fence, a distance of about three metres. With the metre of caterpillars still coming down the tree and the metre already on the pavement, that gives us five metres of caterpillars, 500 centimetres. Each caterpillar was about 2.5 cm long, so we had about 200 individuals in this troop.

There’s a (not very good) video here showing the extent of the procession.

Later on, walking home, we saw caterpillar remains in a couple of other places along the road, suggesting that there were quite a few processions that morning. The caterpillars normally come out of their nests together at night, to feed on pine needles, but they leave the nest in the same way when it’s time to pupate, so I guess that was what we were seeing today.