a hairy, orange invasion

Spending winter in Morocco is a treat. The oranges are ripe and hanging heavily from the trees; the air is fresh and beautiful; and still, the days are warm and sunny. When I took my first walk around the farm where I’m staying I noticed that something was different. In places, it looked like there was a thin sheet of snow on the ground. I was surprised: I had just come from snowy Helsinki to warm Morocco and there was snow?

After having a closer look, I realized that of course it wasn’t snow, or even frost, it was the web nest of some kind of caterpillar. In the web, and in the vegetation around it, were small, hairy, orange larvae with a black line on the back. As I continued walking, I saw the devastation they had caused. Large areas were covered in their web, and under it, most of the leaf material was gone. So of course, I decided to grab my camera and document it! The most striking thing for me was the very clear front: a black mass of caterpillars, behind them a white field, in front of them untouched green. Unfortunately, I haven’t (yet) identified the species.

I hope you enjoy the pictures! If you have any questions or comments, I’m happy to get them.

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The caterpillars are actually quite beautiful.

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The webs. As far as I know, the caterpillars make them and stay in them, unless they’re out eating.Β  Below are a couple more photos of the pests themselves: they don’t all look the same.

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Doing what larvae are best at: eating.

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The Larval Front, as I call it. To the left you can see the area which has already been eaten; in the middle is the black mass of caterpillars; and to the right, their future meals.Β 

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If you think the colours are a bit off, it’s because I don’t have a calibrated screen here and just did my best while processing the photos. Anyway, it’s the idea that counts! πŸ™‚

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8 thoughts on “a hairy, orange invasion

    • thanks for the tip! they do look quite similar, but still a bit different.. it’s a good starting point, though. they didn’t seem to be in the trees at all, which is different from the web-making moths i know.

      thanks for the comment, pip!

  1. I’m wondering if they might be oak processionaries (Thaumetopoea processionea, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oak_Processionary), which is another moth species whose caterpillars can form plagues. They have been quite a nuisance in Belgium and the Netherlands in the last decade. I’m not sure though, as they only form a problem in northern Europe due to recent range expansion and a lack of natural predators there.

    • I think those might be pretty close. These ones are distinctly orange and don’t go up in trees, but they do also cause skin irritation if touched (according to locals), just like the oak processionaries. I’ll have a look into that genus – maybe I’ll find something!
      I think the egrets here ate them to some extent, but it didn’t seem to stop the invasion…

      Thanks, Leon; cheers from Morocco! πŸ™‚

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