I'm normally pretty appreciative of the insect life around me, and out here in the boondocks there is a plethora of it to appreciate. But this takes the cake! I went out to pick the last of my blueberries and caught a glimpse of this, um, caterpop, and almost did a back flip! Isn't it cool and yet horrible at the same time? Kinda makes you think of a creeped out appetizer-on-a-stick, doesn't it? :D
I did a little research, and I think these are "Yellownecked Caterpillars" (Datana ministra), destroyer of oak leaves and other United States hardwoods, not to mention shade and ornamental trees >:-(
And this, from the Forest Health Protection, Southern Region: Newly hatched larvae skeltonize the leaf; older larvae devour all except the leaf stalk. Individual trees, or even stands, may be defoliated during late summer and early fall. Since defoliation is confined to the late part of the growing season, little damage is caused to the tree.
See the way they've arched their backs, throwing their heads and tails up into the air? When disturbed, the creepy little larvae use this as a defensive measure to prevent parasitism by various wasps and flies. I think it looks pretty funny. Like bug yoga.
Moths appear during June and July and deposit white eggs in masses of 50 to 100 on the undersides of the leaves. Larvae feed in groups, reportedly maturing in August and September. Mature larvae are fuzzy and black with white stripes. I hate to thell them but they're running late. They're really gonna have to get on the stick to make it by October (pun intended! heh..) Mature larvae drop to the soil and pupate at depths of 2 to 4 inches (50 to 100 mm), where they spend the winter. There is one generation per year, and since their natural enemies generally keep infestations in check and they apparently don't really cause much damage, I'm just going to leave the little suckers alone, and see if the freakshow returns next year! ;)