Kindling Neighborly Connections between People and Nature.

Thursday, August 22, 2019

Weird Wild Neighbors: Spiny Oak-slug

It's been about three years now since I've been highly intentional about my decision to live into community with all that has life by following the teaching and example of Jesus who tells us that one of the most important things is to love our neighbors as ourselves. I want to live this way with my fellow human neighbors as well as with my non-human neighbors (aka my 'wild neighbors'). I know that if I want to love my neighbors then first thing's first; I've got to take time getting to know and understand them.

One thing I'm learning along this journey is that as I give of my time and attention to get to know our many and varied wild neighbors, from time to time, things get weird; I mean like other-worldly weird! It's true; there is no need to travel to distant galaxies or watch science-fiction films to experience weird. There is enough weird wildlife on this good earth we call home to keep us occupied with weird. Heck, If I'm fascinated by weird, there's more than enough weird to keep me occupied in my home state of Pennsylvania!

That is why, over the course of the next week I'll be showcasing a different wild neighbor who expresses characteristics or behaviors that might seem totally weird to us.

As I welcome you into this week of Weird Wild Neighbors I'm gonna kick things off with a caterpillar that I happened upon along the trail this morning that made me do a double-take.

As rain clouds moved in like a blanket bringing with it a very welcome cool breeze my friend Ken and I were birding. As we traversed the Moccasin Trail at the West end of Cowanesque Lake we noticed a very peculiar looking creature on the underside of a milkweed leaf.

I introduce to you the SPINY OAK-SLUG.  It is not a slug; it is actually a caterpillar, belonging to the order Lepidoptera (which includes caterpillars/butterflies/moths). Within the order Lepidoptera the spiny oak-slug belongs to the family called Slug Caterpillars (Limacodidae).

Part of the reason it is called a slug caterpillar is because it seems to move like a slug; as I watched it move it seemed to glide across the surface of the leaf in a way that was very different than the locomotion of other "normal" caterpillars. The spiny oak-slug eats a wide variety of plants found in deciduous forests and forest edges and it can most reliably be found hanging out on the undersides of deciduous leaves.

Notice that its covered in many tiny spines. These spines have the ability to temporarily irritate the skin of would-be predators much like when our skin brushes against the plant that is called nettles. The bright red and yellow coloration of this little fellow warns birds and other creatures that might like to make a meal of it that they might want to think twice about that decision. That being said, I wonder how a prolific predator of caterpillars like a black-billed cuckoo would handle the spiny oak-caterpillar.

While the larval caterpillar is brightly colored, the moth that it will become is very unassuming (small and creamy brown with a tiny spot of green on the wing).

My first thought upon seeing the spiny oak-slug was, "Wow! This looks like something out of a Dr. Seuss book! But it's even better because this is real life!"

I hope you've enjoyed the Weird Wild Neighbor for today on the blog... the spiny oak-slug...but its not a slug, its a caterpillar...WEIRD!

The information about the life history of the spiny oak-slug was obtained from this following field guide:

Caterpillars of Eastern North America: Princeton Field Guides. Daniel L. Wagner. Princeton University Press; Princeton NJ, 2005. Page 49.

1 comment:

  1. Wow, that is weird...but interesting...thank you for sharing this.