I couldn’t believe I spotted this crew again after finding them over a week ago. Their numbers are significantly diminished; they’ve likely lost siblings to bird poaching over time. But there they are, relocated to a new leaf, over halfway through devouring it.
I’m not familiar with these caterpillars, so I don’t know how how many more skins they’ll shed as they grow out of their tight coats, how much longer they’ll live as larvae before pupating, when and who they’ll become as adults. But they’ll certainly grind through another whole leaf or two, and more of them will likely become bird bait.
Insects have always been incidental to my woods-walks, interesting but not exactly the point. This year they’ve drawn me so deeply into their world, I almost pay more attention to these, the tiny crawlers and winged things, than the big feathered ones. And there are so. many. of them. Eating. And being eaten. The sheer force of appetites—from the caterpillars’ frantic leaf-munching, to the birds scouring the branches for larvae and insects to feed their own chicks, to the giant, two-legged naturalist cleaning all the ripe blueberries off the bushes—drive the woods through the months of July and August. These months, the birds quiet down and the atmosphere simmers in silence.
But if you listen very closely, you may just hear the chomp and munch of those millions of tiny jaws.