Monday, June 6, 2016

The eating season

By Beth Sullivan
As the season gets lush and everything is juicy and tender, I am noticing, with much dismay, everything getting chewed up!
It's a beautiful time of year.

We all know critters need to live, but there are situations arising now where the feeding habits of these creatures are at best annoying but many have devastating impacts.

Gypsy moths return

Last fall we noticed a large infestation of Gypsy moths on North Main Street at Fennerswood Preserve. There isn’t really much an individual can do. We “squished” caterpillars when we could find them, and removed cocoons before they hatched, when they were in reach. And earlier this spring an adventurous group of Pine Point Explorers joined me on a hike through the woods, weapons in hand. They used sticks to scrape off egg masses on the tree trunks. I would like to think we destroyed several zillion potential caterpillars, but they are back in force. They spread themselves over acres of canopy by ‘ballooning’: being carried on the wind immediately after hatching on silken threads. What leaves and blossoms were not eaten by the early hatching Winter moths are now being consumed by the rapidly growing Gypsy Moth caterpillars, eating, digesting, and “dropping” in a constant patter that can be heard as you stand in the woods.
Pine Point Explorers armed with their sticks at Fennerswood.

We scraped hundreds of egg masses off the trees.
One hope: the fungus that naturally kills the caterpillars is activated and enhanced by moisture. The recent rains, and those in the next week, will hopefully spread that fungus and infect them, preventing them from continuing the cycle. Look for the caterpillars hanging limp from the branches and trunks of trees.
Tent caterpillars, though hairy, are enjoyed by Cuckoos.

I have a little friend who loves butterflies. Part of the lesson to be learned is that, to be able to enjoy the beauty of the butterfly, we have to come to peace with some caterpillars. We do not mind the munching on Milkweed of our beloved Monarch caterpillar, but I am a little less enthused by finding the well camouflaged green larvae of the Pretty White Cabbage Butterfly. Check your early Broccoli and Kale for caterpillars.
We can share Milkweed with Monarch Caterpillars.

The upside to a multitude of caterpillars now, is that they provide a banquet for the birds. Cuckoos are one of the few species that eat the hairy Gypsy Moth and Tent caterpillars. Warblers and many other species are enjoying the feast of the smaller caterpillars high in the tree tops. As they are nesting now, we know their young will benefit.
Gypsy Moth Caterpillars are in a feeding frenzy now.

Ticks and mosquitoes- a part of summer

Unfortunately we are often on the menu as well. Ticks and mosquitoes can really take some of the fun out of a day outside. As we head out to enjoy the summer season, we cannot allow ourselves to be panicked and crippled by the potential harm to be done by these creatures. Try to avoid very brushy areas, especially areas dense with the invasive Barberry which ticks seem to really favor. Stay on the trails our stewards try to keep clear and well mowed. It is a good time to stay out of tall grass meadows anyway: Birds and mammals are nesting. In the beautiful wetlands, be aware that the mosquitoes love the wet and lush vegetation in these areas too. We have to be proactive: proper clothes, bug spray and a vigilance at shower time for ourselves and children.
Adult Ovenbirds will fill these hungry mouths with caterpillars. Photograph by Dennis Main.

We are in the most beautiful time of year. Please get out and enjoy the beautiful lands Avalonia has preserved for all to enjoy-including the caterpillars.

Photographs by Beth Sullivan, unless otherwise noted.

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