furry black beasts, from 2 inches to 100 pounds

giant leopard moth caterpillar

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) though I don’t think his bristles pack a poison that can cause skin rashes or worse, like some other spiny caterpillars do. I just like to be gentle. 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).

hole in fence from bear

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.)


Categoriesinsects & worms
  1. Farmgerl says:

    Did you know that the NYS Dept. of Environmental Conservation is issuing bear hunting permits this season? Spread the word — bears seeking sanctuary are welcome here!

  2. Tricia says:

    I want one (the caterpillar, not the bear)! The only thing I have to feed it would be dandelions. Probably would skip our place and go to a more wooded spot. I’ll keep my eyes open, though. That moth would go perfectly in my living room!

  3. HI Margaret: You have to stop sleeping through the exciting things that go on outside at night. You will need to put up some outside lights and be able to turn them on and off from a good view point. Your kitty will welcome your support and will let you know when to turn a light on and catch the show.

    Have a great evening,

    1. Margaret says:

      Hi, Lara. It was splendid. Hope I will see the moth one night next summer!

      Hi, Tricia. I hope it eats all the dandelions here, too. Somebody ought to.

      Thanks, John — and you are right. I sleep through all the exciting stuff. Lights needed!

  4. Ann says:

    Great post. I remember a live cam of cubs being born a couple of years ago. I can’t remember where the site was now, but we loved checking in every day.

  5. Diane Meier says:

    Margaret –
    Thanks for the v good link to the Black Bear information.

    One of the most important notes on it, I think, is the fact that only 36 deaths can be attributed to black bear attacks in ALL of the 20th Century. And yet, humans remain their greatest predator…

    Can’t say I’m not tempted to build a safe little bear condo, bring them peanut butter and honey and ask for their forgiveness.

    1. Margaret says:

      Hi, Diane. Yes, I had the same thought — why do we act so aggressively toward them (and so many animals!)? Unless you get between a mother and her cubs, these are not animals that come lunging after you.

    1. Margaret says:

      Exactly, Linda. Exactly. They are not a “nuisance,” they are residents! We all need to read up more on the wildlife that surrounds us to have a better grasp of the big picture, I think. Thanks for the link.

  6. Jane in CT says:

    My husband reported last night that a totally black wooly bear was sauntering through the garage. Suspecting it might be a non-bear, I picked it up and it immediately became a prickly black ring in my palm with its stylish smooth red “Michelin Tire” bands revealing the truth of its identity. Out in the garden it went to become a giant leopard in the spring.

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