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A Rather Clever Caterpillar

I imagine that not many caterpillars were amongst the blessed animals last Sunday, least of all the procesionaria (Thaumetopoeidae Pityocampa). I wonder what Sant Antoni would have made of this little creature in all its disguises as a moth, egg, cocoon or caterpillar.

We are told that this particular processionary caterpillar is a bit of a vermin, but I wonder. Surely there must be something good to be said about this little moth and its more visible transformation as a caterpillar. Shall we start by just admitting that we are looking at a rather clever little creature?

Pine processionary moths lay their eggs on the needles of pine trees in August. When the young larvae hatch, they first construct and later abandon a succession of small nests at different spots on their home pine tree. After two molts they build a large, permanent nest that is forbidding and impenetrable to intruders, thanks to toxic hairs strewn throughout, and that provides good shelter through the winter months. In Mallorca, the caterpillars leave their nest around this time of year (see photo) in search of a site where they can bury themselves underground, spin cocoons, and metamorphose. Beware, and don’t touch.

Adult moths then emerge in August.

The photo was chosen from my archive. It was taken in Palma de Mallorca, Spain. The date: February 3rd, 2007. The time was 14:08:36. My information is partly based on research by Terrence D. Fitzgerald, a distinguished professor of biology at the State University of New York at Cortland, as published in the Natural History Magazine. Thank you very much.

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