Caterpillars are the beginning of a creature many of us have grown to marvel at. Seeing as these creatures develop into butterflies, growing up with a fear of caterpillars is uncommon, but in the local deserts of Southern Arizona, tent caterpillars are setting up camp, literally everywhere! This invasion is quite the sight to see as the caterpillars weave a giant silk encampment in between tree branches. Each cocoon houses several caterpillars. The caterpillar homes are white with black spots, which are just caterpillar poop, but do add to the unpleasantness of the sight. This behavior is not abnormal in tent caterpillars. These caterpillars are social and tend to stay together in small populations and build their weird looking homes. What is abnormal this summer is the unusually high number of “camps” that have been set up in Southern Arizona deserts and forests. They’re literally seen everywhere and have begun to stir things up among the local public.
Would walking into what looks like a “science-fiction movie” scare you? It definitely creeped out some people. According to John Palting of the University Of Arizona Department Of Entomology, “A lot of people are creeped out by it – but it’s just caterpillars and a bunch of silk and caterpillar poop.”
Whether it’s really a sci-fi movie or just nature, many are still having mixed feelings about the critters. Pamela Selby-Harmon, officer in charge of the post office in the mountain village of Summerhaven, describes her feelings as, “They are kind of cool and kind of creepy, all at the same time.”
She further explains it as “… one of those love-hate relationships. You love the caterpillars, but you don’t like to see damage to the trees. But Mother Nature has a lot more going on than we do as far as planning.”
So what does Mother Nature have planned for these tent caterpillars and the surrounding environment?
Palting says he “[hasn’t] seen it where they kill a tree. They take the first crop of leaves, and the trees leaf out again.” Thankfully, Miss Selby-Harmon has nothing to worry about in regards to the trees.
He also states, “The tents will probably break down with the summer rains and be pretty much gone by midsummer.” Meanwhile, “the population explosion generally means that the parasites will also have a good year and take the population back down. Such are the checks and balances of nature.”
So where there are a lot of caterpillars, there are a lot of caterpillar predators, and Mother Nature has the situation under control, and we will hopefully be able to avoid be part of a real sci-fi experience.
Author Bio: Heydi Ruelas is a journalism student and blogger for Bulwark Exterminating, an industry leader in providing high quality pest control services. When I’m not playing with my two adorable nieces, I’m on the tennis court chasing that little green ball around.