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Tales of the Unexpected

03 November 2011 | Posted in Insects , Wildlife , Wildlife Events

pale tussock moth caterpillar / Darius Bauzys
Author Ronnie Reed

What is three centimetres long, pale yellow, hairy and can stop a group of 14 children in their tracks? The answer; a pale tussock moth caterpillar.

When we run childrens events down here at the Seven Sisters careful planning goes into what we do. Im a control freak so I need to know that plan Z will work if it is required. But often, it is not the planning or the hard work that makes the magic happen; it is the unexpected.

Take last week for example: we gambled with the possibility of bad weather and ran a holiday club Autumn Camp, offering youngsters the chance to come out into the woods and spend the day with us around a camp fire.

We had a plan: our theme was autumn and with Halloween on everyones radar we were going to cook pumpkin soup. We organised a trail into the woods which the group had to follow to find the ingredients hidden amongst the trees and then they had to chop onions, peel potatoes and carve up a pumpkin ready to add to the cooking pot over the fire they had lit themselves. This was going to be followed by making pouches out of calico and decorating them with leaf prints and finally they were going to build shelters against the changing season.

What we could not have planned was the perfect weather and the woods dressed ready for autumn. Throughout the day, a warm gentle breeze blew through the trees lifting red and golden leaves from the branches into the air and sent them spiralling down onto the floor of the forest

Nor could we have planned the pale tussock moth caterpillar. One minute there was lots of noise and activity and then there was silence as the group left what they were doing and crowded round to look at the tiny, amazing creature that my colleague Mark had lifted up on a leaf. Soft tufts of hair cast a pale yellow halo around the body of the caterpillar and the black bands separating the segments of the body screamed keep off to any potential predator. At the tail of the body was a long red-orange horn to re-enforce the message. It was feeding on the leaf and would have been surviving on the hawthorn and blackthorn that grows in this area. As Mark explained the caterpillar would pupate in a silk cocoon and turn into a pale silver grey moth the group stood entranced. A bit of magic. The unexpected.

pale tussock moth / Alan Price

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