ISEEM TO BE A MAGNET for furry black creatures, a trend that I suppose started when the cat of my dreams adopted me all those years ago. This week, he and I have been visited by two other thick-coated types: the biggest caterpillar I have ever seen, Hypercompe scribonia (above, who will become the giant leopard moth), and a not-so-big (but big enough, thank you) American black bear, Ursus americanus, who completely terrorized resident fur-bearer Jack the Demon Cat in the overnight hours last night.
I was alert enough to notice the 2-inch-long caterpillar inching along the surface of the driveway the other day, and picked him up carefully (on a leaf) because I know many such caterpillars pack a poison in their bristles that can cause skin rashes or worse. Hypercrompe scribonia, who is related to a couple I profiled not long ago, has the most beautiful orange-red bands between the segments of its body—and, I learned once indoors doing some homework, doesn’t sting. It likes many plants that grow here, including cherry, violet, maple, willow and dandelions.
The caterpillar will overwinter here before pupating to a stunning white moth (wingspan, from 2 to nearly 3 inches) with the most beautiful black-spotted wings and a blue and orange abdomen. You can see an image of the moth life phase at BugGuide [dot] net, my favorite entomology site. Like the woolly bear and various others I’ve seen here in the garden this year, this one’s a cousin in the taxonomic tribe Arctiini (the tiger moths).
I slept through the latest bear escapade, but poor Jack (whose many beds are downstairs, not up) apparently had an eyeful from the first-floor windows, and staged a protest against going outside this morning in apparent terror. Though I could quickly locate the damage—feeder poles bent to the ground, an empty feeder removed and hauled away—I couldn’t find the breach in the fence that surrounds the place.
At least at first. I was looking for the usual crushed panel in my deer fence—something big and obvious that an adult male of up to 300 pounds could do—but this one was more of a clever, tidy type. I figure a bear of 100 pounds or so could get through there, if not a whopper.
Rather than get upset (tell that to Jack!) I get curious at such goings-on here, and always try to learn something in the process—besides the obvious lesson of not falling asleep watching a movie without taking in the feeder. Did you know that cubs are typically born while the female is hibernating, in January or February, and spend not just that winter but the second winter of their lives with their female parent (who bids them farewell at about 17 months of age)? Or that humans are their primary predator (though wolves, where present, or mountain lions may prey on cubs)? (More on the black bear at the University of Michigan zoology site.)