Thursday, October 2, 2014

wearing a russet coat

wearing a russet coat
a woolly bear undulates 
across a blue stone

As hummingbirds and geese begin their autumn exodus, flying south for thousands of miles, the woolly bears join in their own migration, crawling on multiple feet in search of a sanctuary for winter hiberation, under a leaf, a rock, a log. 
          On the charcoal gray asphalt highway, they look like tiny black dashes. I drive slowly so I have time to dodge the intrepid caterpillars as they crawl straight across, oblivious to the man-made machines bearing down on them. It's like playing a video game, only for real. Most people don't even notice them, or if they do, they don't seem to care about squashing a lowly caterpillar. 

The funny thing is, the one I find crawling across the stones on our path (curling up defensively when I touch it) is not black, not even black with an orange band in the middle, but nearly all orange with narrow black rings on both ends.

Last year the one I found in the same location was all-black, and that was just as puzzling.

This year I discover another tiger moth larva munching on a leaf, decked out in a completely orange coat, no black bands.
          What does it mean?
          That's the same question I asked last year, when the one I found curled up under a dead leaf was attired in a bristly black tuxedo, no orange cumberbund. This year the two Isabellas in our yard apparently decided to be different from their crazy highway-roulette friends and dye their spiky hair orange for Halloween.
          Entomologists claim that the number of orange hairs tells the caterpillar's age, that is, how late it emerged in the spring. We did have a hard winter and a late spring, so perhaps that does explain my pumpkin-orange specimens. But why are their dogged relatives on the highway black? 
          Enigmas bristling with mystery.

No comments:

Post a Comment