Monday, March 12, 2012

Bag-shelter Moth

 This in not one big creature, not a snake, not a worm but several hundred individual caterpillars. The Australian Processionary Caterpillar lives in the Southern half of the country and eats leaves like most caterpillars, but that’s about the only thing it has in common with other caterpillars.
It lives in vast groups of up to 300 and weaves a silken bag which hangs in it's food tree, the bag can be nearly the size of a football. At night they all go into the bag and stay there until morning. In winter they spend long periods in the bag only coming out to feed when possible. If they strip the tree of leaves they march on mass to another tree and make a new bag. Eventually they pupate and turn into very ordinary moths with nothing outstanding or exceptional about them.

Those tiny hairs are so fine they get into the pores of your skin and irritate you for several days, other creatures like ants, lizards, birds etc are totally unable to eat them because of the fine hairs. Aboriginal Australians collected them on bark and rolled them on hot ashes to burn the hairs off before eating them…possibly the only predator they have.

As kids we used sticks to gently push them around into a big circle and they would follow each other for at least as long as it took us to get bored and wander off. I did accidentally touch one once when it rolled off a stick and onto my hand, by the time I'd put it down my hand was stinging. An hour later my hand was red and swollen and itched like hell for a few days…I never made that mistake again..
I came by this procession by chance as they moved from one tree to another way out in the bush and this time I had a camera with me, otherwise this is a very rare sight indeed. 

* Babies feeding on a single leaf  and the unappealing adult Bag-shelter moth


I know you didn't come here to learn so you have my sincere apologies.


Magsx2 said...

Hi Tempo,
Fascinating post. I have never seen these Caterpillars before, how astonishing that they all join up like that, unreal.

Pearl said...

HA! You made me learn!

Have always had a prejudice against moths... Woke up at a sleepover as a child once to find one crawling into the mouth of the girl sleeping next to me.

I never quite got over it.



KaLynn ("MiMi") said...

of course we come here to learn!! this is fascinating! Thanks for the lesson!!

Windsmoke. said...

I must admit something just doesn't look right here and i don't know why :-).

Spiral said...

Fascinating! Love the pics and story and I always want to learn :)

Belle said...

I love learning new stuff, especially about nature. It is amazing how they all follow each other like that. It's great you got to photograph them. You should sent the photos to a magazine or something! Too bad it hurts people to touch them. I loved picking up caterpillars when I was a child. It was about the only bug I wasn't afraid of.

Tempo said...

Hi Mags, I've only seen processions about ten times in forty years and I live out in the bush and spend a fair amount of time riding bikes out in the wilderness. I've seen the bags many times but I dont mess with those.. I heard about a bloke tearing one open, the caterpillars poured down on his face, neck and chest and made him very sick for a long time.
Hi Pearl, we have this weird bush moth that has a body about 4 inches long, wingspan of about 6 inches...I'll send you one..hundred
I read somewhere that the average person swallows 3 spiders a year in their sleep (truly) Sleep well..
Hey KaLynn, It was so rare to actually get photos of this that I had to post them, I will probably never get pics like this again.
Hey Windsmoke, No Photoshop was used in this post, though I did have to Google to get the last two pics.
Hey Spiral, I'm not sure if you have them up your way (too cold?) but I guess you dont because with the amount of time you spend out doors I'd have thought you would have seen them.
Hi Belle, The only place they can be attacked is their head or butt, by teaming up like this they are quite impervious. As I took these pics there were ants trying to find a way to attack them but they couldn't even get close.

River said...

This was fascinating! I've never seen these before. Now that I know they're irritating I'll be sure to not touch them if I ever see any.

Tempo said...

Hi River, you should have these in your area, certainly in the hills but also in the parks where you live they should be about. Look for a silky hanging bag in the wattles, kind of tear drop shaped but dont disturb them...

bettyl said...

What a delightful surprise that you share with us! That is amazing and I do love to hear the stories that go with the photos. Thanks.

Tempo said...

Hi Bettyl and welcome, It's a very rare event to see them so I took the shots to share this interesting event. The conga line went on for over another metre into the bushes

Cal's Canadian Cave of Coolness said...

One does not walk calmly into Australia. There are things there that do not sleep. GAH! Something else that Survived your continent by being deadly or irritating.

Sarah said...

Don't apologize Tempo, these are awesome! Plus I am naturally curious and a hands-on kind of gal so I'd rather be forwarned & forarmed if I ever go to Australia.