Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Stephen, Buddha, and the Tent Worm Trail

I fortunately had the day mainly off today, and I got the pug harnessed up and took him on an expedition of sorts. While on our walk about a week ago, we found a location in Fairlington where I noticed the presence of Tent Worms in abundance. I thought that since it was such a nice day, we'd go investigate with the camera.

We meandered down through the lovely green freshness of the path. Passing gorgeous azaleas in bloom and Irises of many hues. Birds were singing, butterflies were on wing and the sky was baby blue. The sun was positively glowing, shining its light through the freshly sprouted tree leaves and lighting them up with its beams.
We started down a walking path that runs near a small forest and behind a little section of houses in Fairlington.

Well, almost immediately after taking this path, Buddha, seeing the "No Dumping" sign on our way,got down to business. Buddha has a great disdain for authority.

I told him and myself out loud that we had to be very careful and watch our step, as we didn't want to step on any of the little woolly worms. He of course didn't know what the heck I was talking about. And almost immediately after I said it, I felt the sickening squash beneath my feet of a poor little woolly worm gone home to Jesus!
UGHHHH! I cursed to the oak trees above!
I hate taking the life of a poor little caterpillar, even granted that en mass they can destroy acres of trees. They don't do it maliciously. They don't have some master mogul Caterpillar laughing in a leather easy chair and smoking Cuban cigars plotting out how they are going to strip this forest and put up "Tent Worm Town" and sell Tent Worm tee shirts and Bobble Head Tommy the Tent Worms.
They don't really think that way.
They probably think only on a base level.
They are just hungry.
I surveyed the sidewalk stretching out ahead of me and observed several of them ahead, and made note to myself to watch my step.

When you take a close up look at them, they really are kind of beautiful in an odd way. The patterns on their little bodies are intricate and interesting. And while I am a little loathe to see any insect gathering in large groups, I started thinking of this path as Tent Worm Trail. They all were very busy and on their way to somewhere.
After some research on my own, it turns out that they build their little tents in the tree with many different rooms and layers. The tent always faces the side of the tree that gets the most exposure to the sun. They leave their tents in the mornings to spread out and feed. They scatter in all different directions and find a tree to feed on. And get this and tell me it isn't pretty amazing: The leave a pheromone trail on their way out to explore, and if they find a successful feeding area, they leave a different pheromone trail on the way back, letting others know it found a good place. Those caterpillars then follow that trail and so on.
Their digestive system can only work above 15 Celsius, so here is why they make many levels and rooms in their tents. Depending on how warm it is outside or cold, they adjust to another room. Every room holds a different temperature. They sit in these rooms and then their digestive system digests the leaves they just ate. Since their digestive system is only designed to handle young leaves, time is of the essence to them, and they immediately go back out and eat again after the food is all digested. They go back and forth like 3 or 4 times a day.
Me and Inspector Buddha saw an area in which they seemed pretty heavily grouped, which was a hand rail next to the sidewalk.

Here they are clearly following that pheromone trail, Inspector Buddha said.
No. He didn't.
I'm lying.
The dog doesn't talk.

Here is another shot of their equivalent to the Tent Worm Turnpike.

Well, as much as this Science Expedition of ours was fun, Buddha was lagging behind at this point as the mid day temperature soared into the eighties, so we headed home, making sure that we watched our step. It was fun to research and observe something random today, and learn how intricate and truly amazing life can be down to it's simplest levels. Who knew all of that even happened.

So readers, I am glad to have passed on this truly useless knowledge to you, but above all else please watch your step out there!
Steve and Inspector Buddha

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