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While scouting my garden yesterday morning I notice that there were several leafless twigs on one of my blueberry shrubs. So a closer inspection was necessary. What I found sent shivers down my spine.
A mass of caterpillars all huddled together. Yuck! I knew these wouldn't be caterpillars that turned into glorious butterflies instead they would turn into some type of moth. Of course I had to find out exactly what type they are.
They are yellow and brown/black stripped, moderately covered in long white hairs with black heads. They look very much like a yellow-necked caterpillar but I think they resemble another Datana, the Drexel's Datana. I used my steadfast caterpillar book (a Princeton Field Guide) "Caterpillars of Eastern North America" by David L. Wagner as a guide to iding this caterpillar.
The young caterpillars tend to feed together on a single leaf and gradually disperse onto nearby foliage as they grow. When disturbed, as in me getting close to take a photo, they lift their front and hind quarters to make the letter C shape with their bodies. It is actually pretty cool to watch them wriggling along and then all of a sudden freeze into a letter C.
I read that they can be voracious on blueberry bushes as well as witch hazel. Whereas they only skeletonize the foliage their foraging can retard the growth of the plant. So I decided that they will have to go. I don't want them to wander to my other blueberry shrubs or find my witch hazel. And, I am not going to wait around for the Tachinid flies to parasitize them. Instead I enlisted the help of my seven year old son who was thrilled to pick them off the shrub.
Once he had picked them all off of course he had to count how many there were. He had 41 total! I hope he didn't miss any!