In the children’s song, Teddy Bear’s Picnic, a group of Teddy Bears has a party in the woods when their humans aren’t looking. (When I was 4, I found this song particularly terrifying. Maybe was the idea of toys sneaking off into the woods, or the minor key or the scratchy record it was playing on in my preschool classroom.)
Today, I was pleasantly surprised to find a party of fuzzy caterpillars (colloquially known as “Woolly Bears”) hanging out on the undersides of various plant leaves in the garden.
As cute and fuzzy-appearing as they are, I avoided petting them. The spines in the caterpillar fur can sting or cause allergic reactions in humans, which is a pretty useful self-defense mechanism.
I’ve posted photos on iNaturalist to see if I can get more specific id’s, but I suspect these are probably some variety of Tiger Moths (Family
In other more terrifying caterpillar news, I also observed a hornworm (Sphinx Moth larva) on my tomato plant being parasitized by brachonid wasp cocoons.
The female wasp lays her eggs inside the hornworm caterpillar. (She also injects some venom and a symbiotic virus that inhibits the caterpillar’s immune response and prevents metamorphosis.) The baby wasp larvae feed inside the caterpillar’s body, then form cocoons on the outside of the caterpillar. It’s like the hornworm caterpillar is the babysitter, who has to house and feed the babies dinner (from its own hemolymph). Of course, when the adult wasps emerge from their cocoons, it usually kills the hornworm.
This is probably has helped my tomato plants, by slowing how much damage to hornworms can do by nibbling. We got a great crop delicious cherry tomatoes. On the other hand, I recognize a certain pathos in the doomed caterpillar.
More about how braconid wasps parasitize Manduca spp. caterpillars.