Twisting in the Breeze

While walking along a nature trail at an environmental education center, I discovered several tussock moth caterpillars. They were suspended above the trail tread on strands of silk, twisting, turning and drifting in the breeze.

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Brightly colored critters appear to be easy pick’ins for predators, but have evolved unseen avoidance strategies to compensate for the absence of camouflage. This one, the Hickory Tussock Moth caterpillar (Lophocampa caryae), is loaded for bear. The hairs have microscopic barbs, and the longer ones (hollow lashes) are connected to poison glands. The flesh is repugnant and toxic as well. Predators learn from experience and, seeing a juicy black and white caterpillar twisting helplessly in the breeze, turn tail and hunt elsewhere. The conspicuous coloration actually serves as a warning.

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Photos by NB Hunter. © All Rights Reserved.

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