The forests around Roundrock are full of this stuff right now. Last year (or perhaps the year before) I made the mistake of calling this the work of tent caterpillars, and I was gently corrected by one of my gracious commentors.
This is more correctly the work of fall webworms. I can’t tell you the distinction other than that one appears more in the spring and the other appears in late summer and early fall.
They’re numbers seem especially high this year. I’ve never taken any kind of systematic survey, but based on impressions after going to the woods for a decade, I’d say this is a big year for them. I don’t know why that is, but I suspect the conditions favor them in some complex combination of heat and rain and drought and maybe moon phases. (Perhaps this also explains the apparent rise in the numbers and malevolence of the horseflies this year.)
The worms build their webs around the ends of branches so that they can reside within, happily munching on the tender leaves without being disturbed by predators. It seems to be an effective system but I wonder what the physiological cost of producing all of that webbing is.
I understand that these worms generally will not kill a tree that is hosting them unless that tree is in a weakened state. A good many trees were hurt by the late frost last spring. That came after they had already brought out leaves, so for many of them, they had to bring out a second generation of leaves. That had to have had a physiological cost as well. Then came the torrents of rain in June. Then came the drought and intense heat of July and August. So I wouldn’t be surprised if a few of my thousands and thousands of trees at Roundrock meet their ends this year.
That’s only natural, of course, and a dead tree can host an entirely different set of guests, so the circle turns.
- Thirteen-lined ground squirrels begin to gorge.
Today’s bonus photo:
This picture was taken on the back deck of my home in suburbia (through two panes of glass, btw). This ground squirrel (I didn’t stop to count the lines on its back) had long ago discovered our caged bird feeder. We keep it filled with safflower seeds since starlings tend not to like that seed and don’t come in great flocks to clean it out. Ground squirrels, however, do like safflower seeds, and this little guy spends a good part of the day inside the feeder, stuffing his cheeks with them. He then works his swollen face through the cage and scurries off to bury the seeds here and there in the yard.
We might get upset about this if he weren’t so cute.