When was the last time you saw something for the first time on safari?
It’s safe to say that I have spent a fair amount of time in the field and yet, during my recent safari to the Timbavati, I experienced exactly this. It was on our second afternoon drive that we came around a corner to find a thin stripe stretched across the road in front of us. Our guide brought the vehicle to a sudden stop and we were all left in absolute awe of what we saw before us!
These caterpillars are the larvae of the moth named Reticulate Bagnet (Anaphe reticulata). They become conspicuous not only because they congregate in groups on tree trunks but they are also noticeable for following each other head to tail in long single-file trails, hence the collective name for this type of caterpillar: processionary caterpillar.
The larvae are more conspicuous than the adults due to their gregarious behaviour. They are quite hairy and form these congregations to ward off predators and find food and it appears that they feed on a wide variety of plant species. As they usually get together in very large numbers, they easily strip the host tree of all its leaves. However this is a natural phenomenon and trees perfectly capable to recover without any long-term damage having been done.
This was a great opportunity for us to get out of the vehicle and capture some low-angle images of the phenomenon. We used a LumeCube to add an interseting and unique feel to the images by adding some side and back-lighting to the subject.
The larvae are mostly active during the colder times of the year. During the day they will be found congregating in the trunks of the food plant that is mostly the Wild Pear Trees (Dombeya) and Horn-pod Trees (Diplorrhynchus). They move from tree to tree in trails that is formed with silk which is laid out by the leader. This does not show them the way, but rather acts as a gripping mechanism for the followers. Pheromones and tactile stimulation by the setae of the preceding caterpillar determines guidance for the group.
This was an absolute first for me and just go’s to show, you never know what you’ll see whilst on safari!
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