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Buck Moth Caterpillars

Buck Moth Caterpillars

They’re baaack, my old “friends” the Buck Moth caterpillars (Hemileuca maia). They love to eat fresh, green Live Oak tree leaves in spring and can be seen grouped in small, knotted clusters at the ends of the tree’s branches. Soon they will mass together on the tree’s trunk and have a little pep rally. This is when they do a weird thing, bobbing their heads in spastic unison, as if saying “One, two, three - hup! One, two, three - hup! Go team!” After breaking up the rally they spread out to bulk up on more vegetation to go out into the world and make a nuisance of themselves.

Well, more than a mere nuisance, they each bristle with dozens of hollow, sharp spines that work like little hypodermic needles and will inject painful venom into anyone who even lightly brushes against them. I’ve accidently been stung by these little monsters enough times to be tempted to crush them between a couple of bricks on sight, but there are too many, some too high in the tree and besides, this might be contrary to the whole nature park thing. Besides the stings, they become fat and juicy and squishing them is most unpleasant. They are best avoided altogether.

I remember their population explosions in the 90s when they were everywhere - floors, sidewalks and walls; inside and outside. They hurt children and pets and pretty much anyone who wasn’t being careful about watching where the things might turn up. A quick check around the park’s Live Oaks today reveals that aren’t too many at this time, so we’re probably safe.

When they are ready, they make a summertime transformation into buck moths. Their moth form is easy to recognize - bold, black and white wings and a bright fuzzy little red posterior. I saw them in unusual numbers last summer, flitting about the woods and blundering up and down the trails. They are kinda cute and have a completely different personality than before.

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