Friday, September 16, 2011

Greenie & Fluffy.

I was standing at the playground, talking to another parent, when this creature dropped from a maple tree. I picked it up, and it immediately began racing up the sleeve of my fleece jacket. I wanted to show my daughter, but in calling her over, I and my new friend attracted the attention of about a dozen other kids, half who screamed in horror, and half who wanted to lovingly poke caterpillar to death.  Greenie continued up my sleeve toward my carotid artery, and I needed another parent, who fortunately had some caterpillar experience, to remove her from my shoulder (note: caterpillar feet grip really, really well on fleece).

I placed Greenie on a leaf, and lifted her up into a tree.  She took hold and crawled skyward.  A girl in grade 2 asked me, "Why didn't you take it home to show to your mom?"

It's a Polyphemus Moth caterpillar.  Polyphemus Moths are large silk moths (Saturniidae).  The adults look like this.

A woman beckoned me over to the edge of the playground.

This attractive, fuzz-covered slinky was speeding along the wooden border.  I don't recognize this one.  We named it "Fluffy," and delivered it to a tree, which it rippled up, lickety-split.

Update:  "Fluffy" has been identified by Neil of Oryctology as a Spotted Tussock Moth, Lophocampa maculata.  Neil doesn't post much to his blog, but his Twittering @microecos is a wealth of genius humour and zoological coolness.  #FF @microecos!

Also, it appears that Fluffy really didn't want to be up a tree.  He wanted to find a place down below to pupate.  Fluff, school playground not a good choice.

Photos courtesy of cheapo cellphone.


Neil said...

Ain't that the famous weather-casting Pyrrharctia isabella aka banded woolly bear?

I have it on good authority (...ok, Wikipedia) that it can also be colloquially known as "Fuzzy Wuzzy."

Hugh said...

Neil, I thought that's what it was when I first saw it, but it has the mid-dorsal row of black dots, and all those tufts of white setae. (A better photo would be helpful.) It was also a warmer shade of orange than I have ever seen on a Fuzzy Wuzzy. Warmth of orange is an important character, I suspect.

Neil said...

Sure enough, should have looked more closely.

So how about spotted tussock moth, Lophocampa maculata? Not sure the diving function these guys serve. Maybe stock tips?

Hugh said...

Neil, Bingo. And probably bingo too.

Neil said...

Diving was supposed to be "divining", but when it comes to the stock market maybe diving is more appropriate anyway.

Susannah (Wanderin' Weeta) said...

Aren't those hairy tufts supposed to be irritating to humans skin? Did you touch Fluffy when you picked him up to move him?

I used to handle all kinds of caterpillars until I read the warnings. Now I'm more cautious, and possibly shouldn't be.

Hugh said...

Susannah, Some are, but I'm not sure which. Fluffy seemed okay. I know not to touch Io Moth caterpillars, but I don't think we have them here.

biobabbler said...

@Susannah & Hugh (et al.): A friend worked with electra buckmoths which do have stinging hairs, but it only affects you if you brush against them. They can crawl all over you and it just tickles. So, as long as you allow them to climb onto you vs. grabbing them, you're fine. I expect (but don't know) that this works for numerous species with toxic spines.

And, of course, don't eat them. =)

It's only polite.

Patricia Lichen said...

Some people are allergic to wuzzy-fuzzy caterpillar hairs (they are said to come off easily and can irritate). Dunno about the fuzzy wuzzies with white whiskers.

Susannah (Wanderin' Weeta) said...

biobabbler, That's very helpful. I can go back to letting the fuzzies crawl on my hands again.

Katie (Nature ID) said...

This has to be one of the more entertaining comment strings I've read in a while. Some fuzzy caterpillars do have stings hiding underneath the fuzz, and it helps to be able to ID them. Plus, some people are sensitive to caterpillar hairs, which can cause some itching but no stinging. I've made a virtual collection of these kinds of caterpillars if you're interested: