Yesterday during open hours at The Caterpillar Lab one of our overwintered New England Buck Moth (Hemileuca lucina) egg masses began to hatch! It was rewarding to watch the process with visitors under our digital microscopes, and then to film as dozens of tiny black heads chewed their way out from within the winter-hardened egg shells.
Buck moths are unique among New England's Saturniid Giant Silk Moths (think Luna, Cecropia, Io) in that they fly in the fall and overwinter as eggs rather than pupae. They are also a venomous species with stinging spines. Note how when they first emerge from their eggs the spines are flattened, pale, and soft. One of their first actions as caterpillars is to inflate and harden their armory of spines - before some nearby predator takes interest. I wonder if the first individuals to hatch are at a disadvantage given that all their brothers and sisters aren't already present with spines to help defend them...
Have you experienced buck moth caterpillars before? Let us know!