Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Orange Striped Oakworms

Caterpillar season is in full swing. It was just about this time last year that Hoot Owl Karma brought you one of our all-time favorites, the Hickory Horned Devil Henry found hanging out near his house.
A brief drive through the Centennial Campus at NC State University Sunday afternoon led to an encounter with more cool caterpillars. 

Late summer is crunch time for caterpillars, and the sight of a young willow oak almost completely stripped of greenery alongside the main campus thoroughfare demanded further investigation. Jay and Hunter quickly solved the mystery. 

A plethora of somewhat scary-looking orange striped oakworms were in major defoliation mode.  Although they left virtually no leaves on this tree, the damage occurs late enough in the season that there should be no permanent harm to the tree.

 A quick glance at the nearby trees revealed that most of the major damage in this area is currently confined to a single tree.

A closer look, however, reveals that a few large caterpillars have moved on to the neighboring trees, presumably to escape the crowds and bustle of the "nursery" tree where hundreds of recently-hatched eggs are quickly becoming fully-fledged caterpillars.

In spite of its fearsome appearance, the oakworm is quite harmless to humans. The "spines" and "horns" are merely fleshy protuberances, and do not sting or prick. 

The orange striped oakworm generally only has one generation per year.  It will feast on oak leaves for a few weeks, then overwinter as a pupa before emerging in mid-summer as a handsome, medium-sized orange saturniid moth to mate and lay eggs of its own.

Perhaps we'll drive through this neighborhood again next week and see how things are progressing...

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