The fuzzy little caterpillar

Note: I wrote this post Friday afternoon, and had meant to post it in the evening once I had a chance to get my picture from phone to computer. No dice. First chance I’ve had is today, which means you get to do a little time travel. Set your clock back to Friday afternoon around 3, and read on.

I am up too late; the constellations are different than when I’m usually out. And I’m a nerd for noticing.

That’s what my tweet was at about 3 this morning; I’d gone outside at a little after 2:30 and thought, Holy crap! Is that Orion rising?! (I usually notice the Summer Triangle and Cassiopeia most prominently in the sky at this time of year.) And then I listened to about an hour’s worth of podcasts after that before I managed to fall asleep. One of them had a little astronomy segment that mentioned — you guessed it — Orion. And so I felt it was fine, almost that it should have happened that way.

I woke up this morning shortly after 9, having been nearly trampled to death by one of the cats. She was hungry, and had gone probably a whopping 30 minutes without something in the food dish, because I remember feeding them before I went to bed. Cats.

After cleaning out a cupboard and doing a little catbox maintenance, I decided to head to the City Park. On a whim, I took the turn to drive up to Clark Tower, a three-story stone structure built in 1926. (Thank you, Google and Wikipedia. I’m not good with my county history.) I sat on a large rock and pulled out pen and paper (a purple Liquid Espresso pen and one of the pocket size Moleskine cahiers that I always carry around), intending to sketch a little, which I haven’t done in a very long time. I’d just started — the curve of the railing was the only thing on my paper at the moment — when I felt a little tickle on my leg.

I looked down before I tried to brush whatever it was off, and saw a fuzzy, pale grey caterpillar with funny little black tufts at either end. I tried flicking the cuff of my shorts, hoping to unseat the little bugger, but it only held on tighter and crawled to where I couldn’t see it. I stood up to be able to see it again and, after much persuasion, got it on the end of my pen, and stared it in what I thought were its eyes.

Having been attempting to identify a large, green caterpillar* the other day, I didn’t want to touch it, because I’d read plenty about stinging caterpillars. After a moment, I let it crawl onto the tree that was behind the rock, and it bolted up the trunk. (Seriously, it was very fast for such a little guy.) I did a quick (and very rough) sketch of it before it escaped, and took a couple of blurry pictures with my phone.

This crawly critter really tickles when its trying to crawl up your pants.

This crawly critter really tickles when it's trying to crawl up your pants.

When I left the park, I decided to get my Google on and figure out what that fuzzy little guy was. One of the first links I clicked on was not encouraging: Morningjoy ended up with a swollen hand after accidentally touching a fuzzy caterpillar, one not too unlike my own. I knew it wasn’t quite right and continued my search until I came across Halysidota tessellaris on BugGuide. (After What’s That Bug, BugGuide is my go-to insect identification site.) Halysidota tessellaris is better known as the banded tussock moth; if you look at the Wikipedia entry, you’ll see the pretty colors on the thorax and the tessellation-like pattern on the wings. I looked at a couple of other sites, and was inconclusive as to whether this was a stinging caterpillar (though I hear the rule “if it’s fuzzy, it stings” is correct most of the time). I haven’t noticed any red marks or swelling, so I think this one’s safe.

* I think it was either some sort of sphinx or swallowtail.


28 Comments (+add yours?)

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    I am so glad for you that you met up with a respectable caterpillar. If it wasn’t; you would know right away. Apparently, the little guy just wanted to be sketched.


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