Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Article: Tussock Moths

[I've decided to take groups of images, glue them together with some words, and label them Articles. Amazingly new concept, I know. This is the first]

Last year Stanford had a huge infestation of caterpillars and it appears to be starting again. The little suckers hang down from the trees by threads and ambush unsuspecting cyclists. So, what should I do? Take pictures!

This post has actually been over two weeks in the making -- mostly because I'm lazy and plenty of procrastination when into typing it up. But I learned some things.

The building where I work is one of their favorite cocooning places. They've been fattening themselves up and now are starting to trek to the wall near my office in large numbers to begin metamorphosis. This will continue for a few more weeks until the wall is covered with furry cocoons, and then a few weeks later I expect the friendly guy with the power washer to come through.

Oddly enough, the infestation around my office is one of the worst across Stanford campus. My family and I took a long (it was epic!) 2 hour walk around campus drive and, while the caterpillars are everywhere, there are many spots with the same kind of trees as those next to my lab yet not nearly as many caterpillars.

According to the literature, the most common caterpillar is the larvae of the Western Tussock moth. All of my pictures below are of Western Tussock moths. Technically you aren't supposed to handle them because they can give you a rash, but obviously I did handle them, and I'm fine (so far).

They really do have a presence about them. The inch-long furry army rappels down from trees while the gentle patter of, err... something... maybe caterpillar excrement... surrounds you like a light rain. Speaking of the trees, I believe they prefer live oak (but I'm no arborologist), which also have the unpleasant side-effect of making me sneeze.

A lot.

Really, lots of Kleenex have been harmed lately.


A week ago I caught a caterpillar (or three), and in the spirit of aiding caterpillar travel, relocated it to another tree near the cactus garden that was easier to photograph. I figured out a few things:

  1. They are hard to photograph.
  2. They are interested in white shiny objects (who isn't?). He kept looking in the direction of anything white I had near him -- I expect this is how they know to climb trees.
  3. They like to eat whatever type tree or bush I put him on.
I'm honestly not super-pleased with these photos, but they get the point across.

I still have a lot to learn about macro photography. For instance, maybe I should get a cheap Nikon 50mm off EBay for reversing. Then I could easily control the aperture, and I've heard rumors that the old Nikon lenses reverse better than Canons.

On the bright side, DPC has an insect challenge coming up, so I think I know who I will be photographing.

No comments: