New Pet

My Limitless Affection For Small Critters

One of the usual fall garden chores I do whenever I’m home is raking the leaves.  It is a very meditative task.  The image of a Zen monk will come up almost every time I rake.  We have a lawn mower that can grind the leaves up, but I prefer raking.  It’s good exercise, the garden doesn’t smell of exhaust and, yes, I did mention that it’s meditative.  The birds also hang around when I rake, but will disappear when the mower is running, not to return until the yard is quiet again.

I did some leaf raking last Tuesday, before the rain had a chance to matte the leaves to the ground.  And, I found my new pet (however temporary)…a Giant Leopard moth (Hypercompe scribonia) caterpillar.

Giant Leopard moth caterpillar, our new pet, curls up when touched
But stretched out and immobile when left alone during the day

I thought it was a Woolly bear when I first spotted it, but it’s almost twice the size and completely black.  It curled up when I touched it and that’s when I saw the rust-colored stripes on the back.  I brought it in the house to see what it was.  Once I learned that it can metamorphose into such a beautiful moth, white with black spots, a Giant (Great)Leopard moth as identified in The Butterflies and Moths of North America website.  I decided to try to raise it.

Since I mentioned a Woolly bear caterpillar, an inch long hairy moth with a rust colored band in the middle, I should mention a myth around it.  The rusty band is supposed to predict how bad the winter will be: the more narrow the band is, the colder the winter will be.  I’ve never kept statistics, but I’ve seen a lot of them flattened on the paths and walkways since they like to creep across the path as well.  No one has figured out why yet.

A Woolly bear caterpillar will become an Isabella Tiger moth if it doesn’t get mashed while trying to cross the path.

It takes a certain breed to go outside at 8:30 at night, in the rain, to rake up some loose soil, pick dry leaves and dig out Dandelion greens for a caterpillar.  We’re two of a certain breed apparently since Bill was holding the flashlight while I did the digging.  We are trying to make a comfortable place for him to winter in.

He’s not moving much when the light still on, hiding under the leaf litter, but comes out and walks around after we turn the lights off.  Hopefully he won’t pupate and make his grand entrance as a majestic Giant Leopard Moth in the middle of the winter like the Black Swallowtail we raised last year.

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