Caterpillars – caterpillars everywhere! What’s the deal with all these fuzzy caterpillars? Crawling on the ground, on tree branches, along the boardwalk, covering benches, even the bathrooms… Cullinan Park is overrun with caterpillars.
The culprits are Forest Tent Moth and Fir Tussock Moth caterpillars. Both use stiff hairs to defend themselves from predators. Thankfully, the hairs are merely annoying to humans, causing mild irritation to a slight rash if you grab one. This caterpillar chaos is not cause for alarm. In fact, it tells us that Cullinan Park has a healthy population of oaks, sweetgums, bald cypress, and basswood trees, which are all host plants for these caterpillars. When there is plenty of food and nice warm weather, we end up with loads of caterpillars.
Forest Tent Moth caterpillars often move in “trains” of multiple individuals, while Fir Tussock Moth caterpillars are more solitary. It looks scary to see them chew through so many leaves, but they rarely cause enough damage to make an impact on the health of the trees.
While it might be annoying to have to watch your step and be careful where you sit, take comfort in the knowledge that this caterpillar chaos will be over soon. Spring migration is in full swing, and hungry birds like Yellow-billed Cuckoos will devour much of the caterpillar horde. The remaining insects will soon spin cocoons, emerge as adults, and lay eggs, starting the cycle over again.