It’s that time of year when roadblocks are at there most numerous. We drive around a corner only to be stopped by a long train of hairy caterpillars blocking our pathway. This timely phenomenon is the caterpillar phase of the processionary moths or Anaphe reticulate from the Notodontidae family. Once the eggs hatch, in this area usually near a Grewia tree (Wild Raisin) they begin to feed on the leaves of their first host plant. Once having devoured every last leaf, they trail off in single-file to their next meal. Head to toe in a straight line, these caterpillars follow a silken thread started by their leader.
If the line gets disturbed, they come to a complete stop and are disorientated for a while before a new leader takes control and leads the sometimes up to 600 odd larvae onwards. When they begin to make silken cocoons, they congregate together into what is called a ‘bag nest’ and are known to be incredibly durable.
My guests and I were kept very entertained during a recent coffee break at Rhino Dam, while a procession of a couple of hundred caterpillars wound their way up a giant marula tree. We were able to track the silken thread and figure out which direction they had come from and then watched in amazement at the speed in which they ascended the tree. At one point at the base of the marula, there seemed to be a bit of confusion as to who was next in line but very amiably, they seemed to sort the order out quite quickly and continue with their journey upwards. With perfect morning sunrays lighting up the tree, we spent a good half an hour snapping away in awe of these fascinating creatures.
Rich took some amazing footage of these incredible caterpillars, see the video below and let us know in the comments section below if you have ever seen caterpillars behaving like this?
Photographed and written by Andrea Campbell
Filmed by Richard Laburn