A regular occurrence these days on drive is for one to have to throw anchors to avoid crossing a line neatly drawn across the road. The reason for not crossing said line is quite apparent upon closer inspection as it is in fact a writhing line of hairy grey caterpillars, head-to-tail in procession inching forward ever so slowly. These extraordinary convoys can consist of numbers up to the tens of individual caterpillars which are the larvae of the bagnet or processionary moth. The most common species found in the area being the Reticulate Bagmoth (Anaphe reticulata).
What is just as apparently remarkable is that these little creatures spend their whole lives from egg to pupa together in a type of nursery congregation during the colder months of the year. Only as adults, which are quite surprisingly nondescript, do they strike off on their own as individuals.
Apart from a thin strand of gossamer that is secreted by the leader which, much like a mountaineers guide rope, is then gripped by its followers, it also makes use of pheromones and chemical clues to show the way. These unique trails are a means to commute from tree to tree to feed. The main tree species utilised are Wild pears and Horn-pods of which there are many on Ka’Ingo. The caterpillars are also observed pupating on trees in a circular conglomeration held together by a silk mesh hence the colloquial name of bagnet moth.
The reason for this fascinating follow the leader behaviour is plainly due to safety in numbers. Sure, one would think the typical predator would just be able to pick them off one by one but they have even more defensive measures on hand. Hairiness in any caterpillar means one thing: Don’t touch! These minutely fine hairs cause irritation, burning & itching if handled lasting for many an hour deterring even the most determined predator or foolhardy of humans.
This serves as just another reminder that one should never equate a good wildlife experience to how many of the big five have been encountered, but that taking into account all of the various facets as to what nature can offer can leave one satisfied as having seen something quite unique and very informative.
By Laurie Roux