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Make Way For Buck Moths: Caterpillars Above And Below

Steve Collins

You only have to spend about 10 seconds in New Orleans to know that ours is a city that relishes being over the top. And we do love her for it. Most of the time.

But not when it comes to bugs. Seriously. Must New Orleans bugs be so, well, New Orleans? Larger than life? With a voracious appetite? And more than a little crazy?

Take, for example, the kamikaze drama queen of the New Orleans insect world: the buck moth caterpillar. 

Buck moth caterpillars hang out in trees. Tall trees. Oak trees to be precise. To a buck moth, an oak tree is like Fridays at Galatoires; an irresistible invitation to overindulge. Which they do, starting around late April/early May, when these little devils take up residence on branches across New Orleans. You can’t see them because they’re dark... just like the branches. But they’re up there, chowing down in their little pop-up restaurants until the wee small hours of the morning. Shoot, I bet they don’t even have permits. Shameful lawbreakers.

As they fatten up from all their eating, the buck moth caterpillars begin to waddle down the oak trees, in search of a place to burrow into the ground and release their inner moth. It’s a treacherous journey… much like leaving Galatoire’s.

Some make it, But not all. Manybuck moths loose their footing on their way down and free fall out of the trees.

Which is when things get really ugly.

You see, the poor buck moths become terrified when they realize what’s happening to them (I’d be frightened too, if I suddenly plunged 12 feet from my dinner table).  They also become angry, releasing poison into the prickly spines that cover their bodies.

Those poisonous spines then sting whatever — and whomever — they touch.  Leaving a rash and, often, causing nausea. Picture this:

It’s lovely spring afternoon. Innocent passerby strolling down beautiful tree-lined streets, admiring the beautiful flowers or simply playing Words with Friends. And then, BAM!  Here come the buck moths, cascading from the sky, plopping onto heads, arms and feet, and injecting their poison into exposed skin. In a flash, spring’s joy is shattered by blood-curdling cries, dropped phones and a torrent of profanity that, well, that’s just not fit for national public radio.

All of which leads me to this piece of springtime advice: Get an umbrella.

You never know when it could start raining. Water. Men. Or caterpillars. 

To read more commentary from Brett Will Taylor,