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CATERPILLAR OF THE WEEK:  Pistol Casebearer (Coleophora species)

There is so much to see if we only bother to look. This week's COTW is the Pistol Casebearer (Coleophora species), a creature that we have encountered before, but had never taken the time to examine closely before today!

We start out each spring collecting vast amounts of leafing-out cherry to feed our growing collection of eastern tent caterpillars back in the lab. And each spring we notice tiny, crusty, burned-looking... things... attached to the stems or clumsily dangling from the fresh leaves as we divide up the plants for feeding time. We have known for a while that these charred pieces of animate detritus were some kind of case-bearing caterpillar - but we never took the time to take a closer look and actually see what it was we had in front of us.

A microscope, a macro lens, or just a simple magnifying glass can open up entire worlds that are lost to us as we rush about living in our large scale world of scant detail. Under the macro lens today we discovered that each Pistol Casebearer case is unique, that they decorate their black silken homes with bits of bark, frass, and sections of cherry leaf. We learned that these tiny caterpillars attach themselves to leaves and stems by silk and that they are quick to retreat into their nautilus-like shell when disturbed, relying on the silk to keep them harnessed.

The cases are remarkable up close, resembling some tide-pool creature, or entire mini aquatic ecosystem. I love finding beauty in unexpected places... go out and look closely at some branches and see if you can find some of your own!

- Sam

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