Monday, October 5, 2015

crossing the gravel

crossing the gravel
a banded woolly bear meets
a sprouting acorn

          I've been seeing more woolly bear caterpillars with unusual banding this year. Usually the Isabella tiger moth larva have about equal bands of obsidian black on both ends and a copper mid-section. The one above is mostly orange with a black head and just a small patch of black on the hind end, whereas the one below has a long black head and distinct black rear end.

          This is the time of year when these intrepid caterpillars migrate in search of a place to curl up and freeze solid over the winter, surviving by producing a cryoprotectant in their tissues. While cleaning up the yard, I often find them rolled into a fuzzy orange ball under a piece of wood. In the spring they will thaw out, feed for a few months and then pupate into a lovely golden moth with black spots and a fuzzy thorax. The moth has only a few days to mate. What a strange life.
          Even stranger is the case of banded woolly bears who live in the Arctic. There is so little time to feed that the larva have to overwinter many times before pupating, sometimes as long as 14 winters. Imagine, 14 resurrections and then only a few days with wings to find your soul mate.

          I am doing my usual zigzag driving on the highway to avoid the "bears" as they cross in both directions. When I go for a walk along our gravel road, I carefully pick up any I see, their heads covered in limestone dust, and move them to a safe spot in the foliage, in the direction they were headed. I watched one for many minutes as it climbed with great determination through the thatch of grass. It climbed the stem of some plant, got to the top and then took some time, waving its head about, before it climbed back down. What a tiring journey it must be, even with all those legs.
          Today I noticed several small black caterpillars, each clinging to the end of a dry grass stem. When I prodded one, it didn't move. One of them had raised its head and died there, frozen in that position. Strange way to die.

          When I stepped back from examining this curious caterpillar corpse, I looked down and saw a banded woolly bear, curled up. They do this when disturbed. I bent over to pick it up and move it to safety, but then I saw a bit of bright green stuff protruding from its underside. I realized to my horror that I must have stepped on the poor thing. All this time, trying to save them from vehicles and here I killed one with my foot! 
          It may seem strange that I would be upset over killing an insect, but so it is with me. If something comes into my attention, it becomes dear to me, no matter how small. To cause its death, whether unwittingly or accidentally, makes me very sad. 
          Unfathomable are the ways of life and death on Earth.

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