Tuesday, June 14, 2011

The Hungry Caterpillar

We had a wind last night, which meant that all the charming tent caterpillars on my neighbours' trees blew all over my yard. While I generally like my neighbours, I most emphatically do not like their tent caterpillars. This year I had finally cracked the code of the tent caterpillar, too: I BTKed the heck out of them. There were none on my trees this year. Well, none that lasted past the miniscule larva stage.

Then came that wind. That bad bad wind.

I went out this morning, unsuspecting, to water and inspect. As I trailed around with the hose, cleaning out bird baths and beds, I noticed them —

All over the place.

Tent caterpillars.

Horrified, I shook my fist at the trees they'd lived in prior to flinging themselves, via that fortuitous wind, into my yard for some wanton rioting. I sprayed a few with the JET function on my water wand. It was a pleasantly violent experience, but I realized that I couldn't very well blow every single caterpillar around to smithereens this way: Although my Constantly Showering Teen would probably say that I am a Obnoxious Water Nazi, I like to think that I am a Relatively Dedicated Water Conserver. Plus, spraying a gazillion tent caterpillars with the JET function might get a little silly after a while, not to mention all the holes in the soil as a result (did I mention that we have fairly intense water pressure?).

So I did the next best thing: I started squishing them. It was almost as satisfying as spraying them, but it also meant that I had to pull them off the leaves and fronds and flowers and ripening strawberries. Which was how I noticed the white spots on their heads.

Know what that means? That little white dot? It means that a parasitic wasp has laid its eggs on the caterpillar. Click here for a brief glimpse into this weird aspect of insect life (and be glad I didn't give you the first link I found on Google, which was, even by my standards, stomach-churningly gross).

Which led me into wondering what the whole cycle looked like. Well, other than really gross.

So I enlisted the assistance of FDPG, aka Indefatigable Caterpillar Squisher. "Let's put them in the aquarium and see what happens!" I said. Delighted at the idea of something so incredibly thrilling, she raced around the yard, capturing caterpillars with white spots on their heads.
Which was how we ended up with this.

Weeds and caterpillars.

And rocks.

A little soil.

Here's my Control Caterpillar. He doesn't have a white spot on his head, so he can show us the life cycle of a Non-Egged Tent Caterpillar.

FDPG doesn't know that I've introduced a Control Caterpillar.


We'll see how long it takes before she notices.

I don't think it'll take long, somehow.

She's keeping a very close eye on them.


Suji said...

And I was starting to get worried about your karma for the next life...what an ingenious idea!

unarm -- ha ha, the first word verification word that makes sense to me.

sheila said...

LOL, does squishing caterpillars really count? Especially evil plotters who eat all my blueberries? Tell me they have bad karma too!

Unarm! What the caterpillars need to DO! lol

Suji said...

Perhaps they are visitors from another world in disguise? Took caterpillar form to look beguilingly "unarmed"? Perhaps that white dot is no wasp but a hidden controlling, mutated organism like those things inside the daleks? Perhaps they gain power via blueberry juice? Hmmm...you need a sonic screwdriver just in case. Did you know they sell sonic screwdrivers on amazon? Or at least cheap imitations of them? I almost got one for K for father's day but settled on a daleks tshirt instead. :)

erin said...

okay, my last comment, but it's a good one. I am reminded of my last home in Richmond, when M was about 2 and B wasn't B yet. My cat had just had close to $1000 worth of surgery to recover from getting beat up by a raccoon. We had alot of coons in the 'hood. Well one day The Culprit was walking along the fence with 4 babies trailing behind. I was watering the daylilies and the next thing I remember I was madly spraying caterpillars, I mean raccoon babies off of the fence, or trying to. They went this way and that way, trying to avoid the spray. Mama coon was hissing and trying to round them up and shrieking raccoon obscenities at me. Then the babies all fell off on the other side. I felt terrible. What had I done? I went inside, head hung low.

Two weeks later the Mama Coon got my cat cornered again. Not so bad, as we came home in time to rescue him from certain discomfort. By that point my compassion was gone. I called a trapper to come and trap them. They were gone within the week.