The Bug Geek

Insects. Doing Science. Other awesome, geeky stuff.

This caterpillar is so ridiculous that it got me to pick up my camera (and a short tale about teaching)

O hai.

It’s been a while, no? Yes, yes it has.

I’ve had an interesting summer. I spent most of it at home, puttering and finding small projects to do in between bouts of “real” work. I discovered some new interests (Namely canning. As in putting food in glass jars. Don’t judge.) I did a lot of introspection. I started to feel better than I was feeling at the time of my last post.

I did not, however, partake in many of my usual pastimes: blogging, mucking around conversing with cool people on Twitter, or taking pictures.

That’s right, my camera sat unused for the entire summer. I was spending a lot of time outdoors but just wasn’t seeing my surroundings through the same “lens”, so to speak, that I used to. Walks were taken to accomplish the goal of exercising myself and the dogs. Yard work was done efficiently without my usual distractedness or frequent breaks to dash indoors to fetch my photography equipment upon sighting an interesting critter. I just didn’t seem to notice much of what was going on around me.

Then, this week, I found myself back on campus for the start of the new fall term. This meant, of course, a new batch of undergrads and a new session of the field-based ecology course for which I’m a TA.

During the first lab period, we took a walk in the woods. A simple thing. Something I’ve done frequently this summer.

Something happened on this walk, though. Two things, actually.

Thing 1: This absolutely incredible caterpillar basically fell out of the sky and landed on the professor’s binoculars:

Spiny Oak Slug

A Spiny Oak Slug. I’d never seen one before. It is ridiculous. Its chemically-defended spines make your skin tingle in a burny kind of way when you touch it. (Yes, I touched it deliberately to find out how it felt.) It is basically transparent – you can see its guts right through the flesh of its underside, and the colourful markings ripple behind what looks like clear jelly. People on Twitter yesterday said it looks like a cake, or a parade float. Facebook friends declared it a “pea pod on acid” or a siege engine. I’m inclined to agree with all of them.

It is SUCH a ridiculous animal (seriously, look at that thing) that I felt, for the first time in months, compelled to take a picture of an insect. So I took it home and had a little portrait session. I was worried that maybe I’d forgotten how to use my equipment, but a little mucking around and I was back on track pretty quickly.

Spiny Oak Slug

(There are a few more images on Flickr, if you’re interested.)

Thing 2: The presence of students shifted something in my brain. Instead of just being in the woods, I started to see the woods and its inhabitants through the eyes of the students, for whom everything seemed wonderful and interesting and “oh,wow…cool”. I remembered, for the first time in months, that…well, that yeah: the woods and its inhabitants ARE really freaking cool. I started LOOKING, and SEEING, and FINDING things, and wanted to share them with other people. For the first time in months.

The next day I took my dogs for their usual walk down an old gravel road that’s lined on either side with woodlots, scrubby hedgerows and old fields. I noticed how intensely yellow the goldenrod looked in the warm light of the early morning sun. I stopped to watch a doe and her twin fawns saunter across the road. I saw a butterfly I’d been trying to find for the past couple of years and stopped to watch it lay an egg. I found more ridiculous caterpillars, and felt compelled to bring them home to take their photos.

As the dogs and I walked, I felt a familiar stirring in my chest for the first time in months. A little flutter. It was the warm, connected and awestruck feeling I usually get when I spend time outdoors, because nature is just so freaking cool and wonderful.

And here I am, for the first time in months, wanting to share these experiences with you. And I have more that I want to share later.

So…”hi”. I’m not going to make any huge commitments, but I think I might stick around here for a little while 🙂

31 responses to “This caterpillar is so ridiculous that it got me to pick up my camera (and a short tale about teaching)

  1. Bill Rockenbeck September 5, 2013 at 11:47 AM

    So glad to have you back! That is a really remarkable beast.

  2. Shelley Barkley (@Megarhyssa) September 5, 2013 at 12:15 PM

    What a great caterpillar. Great to have you back! Missed the tweets…as for canning…it is a pass time of mine too.

  3. Morgan Jackson September 5, 2013 at 12:22 PM

    There is so much freaking WIN in this post! Amazing caterpillar, fantastic photos, beautiful message, and I’m so happy to see you’re finding your spark again. Enjoy being outside Geek! 😀

  4. Sean McCann September 5, 2013 at 1:18 PM

    Nice! I have always been too afraid to touch these, as folks I know who have stepped on them report excruciating pain…

    • TGIQ September 6, 2013 at 8:56 AM

      In fairness, I only lightly brushed it against the skin at the base of my thumb/side of my hand. I suspect, had I really squashed the thing, it would have hurt a lot more. Chris got a harder jab and it left a red mark.

  5. Matthew Bergeron September 5, 2013 at 1:54 PM

    Thanks for sharing, I’ve definitely went through this kind of slump before (more than once). I also love canning. There’s something about going back to the old ways of cooking and preserving that’s very edifying.

    • TGIQ September 6, 2013 at 8:57 AM

      Thanks for the commiseration 🙂 I have plans for a veggie garden next spring so my canned stuff is actually my own produce next year. In the meantime I made do with locally grown 🙂

  6. Adrian D. Thysse September 5, 2013 at 2:21 PM

    Welcome back! So glad to see the blog active again, and with such an amazing subject!

  7. Bug Girl September 5, 2013 at 2:55 PM

    Glad to see you are back!! Long distance hug.

  8. Jon Quist September 5, 2013 at 6:24 PM

    That is a beast. I myself go through phases where my interests shift from natural history, to basketball, to my social life, and then back to NH again. Durring my time off from the NH phase I’ll often wonder when my interests will rekindle, if ever. But as it turns out, it always does at the most random times and in an amazingly big way.

  9. Wanderin' Weeta September 6, 2013 at 6:30 AM

    Yay! I’ve missed you.

    And what an amazing beastie!

  10. JLS September 6, 2013 at 9:48 AM

    I’m afraid I understood every bit of what you said. So glad to hear you’ve been taking good care of yourself and are starting to feel the joy again. May your autumn be filled with wonder!

  11. africagomez September 6, 2013 at 4:07 PM

    Great to have you back. Thank you lovely caterpillar!

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  13. dragonflywoman September 8, 2013 at 11:12 AM

    So glad to see you back! Love this post. Fun!

  14. becomingcliche September 8, 2013 at 8:26 PM

    I found the same kind of caterpillar yesterday. In fact, I was looking through the global tags to see if I could find an entomology blogger to help me identify it when I saw your photo in the reader. What a crazy creature!

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  16. pichu818 September 10, 2013 at 12:45 AM

    WELCOME BACK!!!! ❤

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