Monday, April 18, 2016

Tent Caterpillars; Weaving the Web of Life

Along about the ides of March, the first small "tents" appear, pitched among the forked lower branches of the silver-skinned wild cherry at the corner of the vacant lot next door. And with their appearance, we know that Spring is here. Sure, there will be another cold night or two, possibly even another frost, but remarkably, every year, the hordes of hairy caterpillars seem to pitch camp at just the right time.

And "just the right time" is that moment when the cherry trees don the tiniest hint of green. Over many a millennium, the moth and the tree have reached an understanding...

the young moths can gorge themselves on the first crop of tender greens, but they must eat quickly and satisfy their hunger before the deciduous trees have lost their springtime impulse to re-foliate, or the trees will eventually suffer and die, depriving future moth generations of their ideal food source.

Judging from the numbers, size and beauty of this year's caterpillar clan,

and the healthy stand of wild cherries populating the wood's edge,
the arrangement seems to working out pretty well for all concerned...

This year's encampment is a couple or three weeks old, and many of the caterpillars seem to have reached near maximal girth, but a few youngsters are still arriving in camp.

There's a chill wind blowing this mid-April afternoon, so tonight the leaf-chomping cats will cozy up for warmth in their silken shelters, 

only to emerge on the morrow for more feasting among the cherries.

So strong is the urge to eat that little escapes their relentless jaws, right down to the lovely cherry blossoms themselves.

Branch by branch, up the trunk they roam,

and when the last leaf on the present limb is gone, the tender shoots of the twining vines of poison ivy and Virginia creeper are fair game too!

As the sun sets on another day,
Spring offers a little reminder to all who will heed...

in the intricate ivory curves of the cherry blossom, 
which will nourish the pollinators for a few more weeks yet,
and eventually yield a bounty of nutritious treats this summer 
for all manner of birds and other critters;

and the rich palette of colors and textures that are the nascent moths of the tent caterpillar clan,
converting the verdant new growth of the black cherry tree into creepy crawly vittles for birds and turtles and fish, et al.

What a privilege to witness this age-old drama unfold again this year on a chilly April afternoon in the heart of Carolina,
renewing our awareness of the intricacy and beauty of the delicate web of life that we all share.

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