Thursday, June 11, 2009

Fun with Nature, #13

Of Creepy Crawlers

The discovery of creepy crawlers usually has children enthralled and ready to hold the multi-legged furry things for observation, or squealing in complete disdain over how icky it could possibly be actually touch or hold in hand.

Usually in my past experience of teaching nature clubs with many children - that would typically be a girl who cowers at the thought of such a thing although there are plenty of girls who would try it out thinking it a very cool experience!

Only one brave child invited this activity

The discovery of our family of millipedes romping around our front porch and stair area was a great one for us to delve into more about fact finding of those creeping insects.

Another creepy crawler has come to visit and is high on our list of this week's continued discoveries because we just aren't too sure we want them to continue living here for the damage they are known to create and cause on deciduous trees' foliage. We are speaking of these THINGS below;

Caterpillars are charming to some, and definitely uniquely colorful when magnifying the photo to see pretty blues in their furriest of fluffy fur, however we've also found black patterns along their backs almost reminiscent of a penguin's shape while in zoom mode. Plenty of giggles rolled out of our mouths as our imaginations ran wild, that's for sure.

With furry friend in hand, and mom snapping lots of photos for future research, here's what we found in our quest for more trivia and knowledge on these crawlers.

First we found THIS website with information on identifying over 800 types of caterpillars, and though mainly in Britain and Europe, one click led to another before finding the site hosted a link to North American caterpillar identification, which can be found HERE.

We LOVE, LOVE, LOVE this Fun with Nature book!

Meanwhile our handy dandy "Fun with Nature" book was on the coffee table and the children were scouting through it also to find out more information and fun facts about these crawlers. As usual this wonderful book never let us down. Have you purchased a "Fun with Nature" book yourself? Oh, you simply must have this as a keeper in your home to use with your children. Even I as an adult LOVE, LOVE, LOVE this book! Check out the links in this post to purchase your own copy if you are so tempted by my declared LOVE of this book. (grin) If you missed my post on the content and further advantages of owning the book yourself, click ONTO THIS LINK HERE to get to the post.

From the North American caterpillar identification website, we further linked to THIS site after realizing the type of caterpillar our trees were populated with for further study. One link there left a smile on our son's face, can you just guess what it was? The link was clear and easy; "Rearing of Caterpillars" and now we have several of these creepy crawlers in our insect containers for further "observations". Since (you know), our son's Phantom has been freed into the wild forest out yonder, he wanted something else to watch, study, sketch and ponder.

Caterpillar bunch with evidence of silky threads
still remaining from their tent hatching

Clearly we have Eastern Tent Caterpillars folks - in abundance at that! This bunch of caterpillars are basking in sunlight warmth altogether, recently hatched because upon closer observations a bit of silky threading is still visible.

Magnified, this caterpillar has beautiful blue color
and black penguin body-like shapes up its spin.

Off we went in search of information on the Eastern Tent Caterpillars, both in books and websites. We found this Wikipedia SITE very informative alongside of the "Fun with Nature" book, not only for identification. Not only did we venture out several more times in search of how they reposition themselves and note even more damaged/eaten leaves on our forest of trees, this website directed us to find their eggs, and even communal tents.

Discovering Silky Eggs

Scouring all the trees in the general area to hunt for silky eggs, we found only the ones above, at least these were the only ones we were able to find exposed in the bark of one tree. Ugly things aren't they?

On our further expeditions on our property, we only found two communal tents still filled with plenty (zillions) of eggs.

Jeepers! They are horrendously ugly things aren't they?

I hesitated over what the suggestion offered on the website to rid ourselves of more hatching population of these crawlers, suggestions to open up the webbing and cuppling all of the eggs in hand before drowning them all in a bucket of soapy water. Eww! Do you know how many hundreds or maybe thousands of eggs there are inside of one web? Jeepers Creepers! (grin)

Our son did what any boy would do before we had the chance to make our decision on destroying the web's content though. He didn't really want to get too close (ewwww -wink) but had a great desire to see INSIDE of the webbing. With a long stick in hand, he gently poked at the thick silky webbing to try to crack through it without much success. The webbing is very strong and difficult to break through at first and like a strong cloth material, one has to vigorously tear it apart. He decided after his initial attempt then to take action and did what any boy would do, right? He wielded the stick with such a strong might, and whacked the web with such a strong might, with such great and terrific speed, it resulted it a break alright, bits of stuff actually became airborne and flew everywhere. As I was just a short distance away with my back turned the other way, all I can say is the flying debris washed over me like a heavy rainstorm and I felt all grossed out by his actions. Can you say mom got a wee bit upset? we must go out with gloves on and do the obvious dreadful duty. And gosh, it's such a creepy feeling that so far all I want to do is scratch my head through my hair to keep reassuring myself no eggs lay there. ewwww........

A broken webbing allows for a peak into its center.

Fun facts about Eastern Tent Caterpillars;

  • - Few birds find this crawler appealing to their palettes, a downer for getting rid of them and thus the population grows and grows to pose serious threats to tree foliage.
  • - Eastern Tent Caterpillars love to feast on one tree more than others, that of the Black flowering cherry tree, and we have three of them on our property we don't really care to lose.
  • - Tents are multifaceted after the eggs hatch in that they are offer a glass house affect by remaining warm inside and thus a few older caterpillar lurk inside to keep warm.
  • - These are the earliers of crawlers to appear in spring as they are hardy and can withstand temperatures as low as 44 degrees F.
  • - Caterpillars secrete silk to form pathways to their food and use the trails to find their way back to their tents.
  • - They are known as plant pests as they can cause serious damage to ornamental trees (black cheery trees especially), thus many folks like to rid their properties of tents and individual crawlers.
  • - Scientists are in continued study about how this insect is implicated in MARE reproduction loss syndrome, causing abortions in horses, in that they puncture the digestion tract and create bacteria in the uterus. That sounds fairly sofisticated to me. Poor horses!