Country Corner

Country corner - Baobab moths
Country corner - Baobab moths

One of the main attractions of wildlife travel is the chance to study wildlife in places it has been little studied.

This gives the enquiring naturalist opportunities to make some genuine discoveries.

This creeping tide of caterpillars was only a fraction of a procession of many thousands spotted winding their way down the trunk of a Baobab tree in the highland woodlands of Ruaha National Park in Tanzania.

Our guide had a broad knowledge and wide experience of the wildlife of the area, but had never seen this before, probably because the grey mass blended so perfectly with the baobab bark you had to be within a metre or so to spot them at all.

What was very noticeable were the large white patches on the trunks where these grubs had spun thick silken mats in which to hide between feeding sorties up into the crown of the tree.

Numerous moth species around the world produce processionary caterpillars which spin various types of silken tent in which the whole mass hide from predators.

However, this giant procession on this giant tree was surely an extreme example.

I felt sure the species must be well-known and that a few minutes of internet investigation upon my return home would solve the mystery.

Well, I have been able to discover that the larvae belong to a species of ‘Bag Nest’ Moth.

Bag Nest Moths are a large family of white moths with brown spots.

However, it appears that we may have given them all names, but we have not yet discovered the life cycle of the various species.

Until a local naturalist – of which there are very few in Ruaha – actually hatches some of these grubs in captivity, it seems that we will never know which of the

many Bag Nest Moths is the one which lives on Baobab trunks in such enormous, yet unseen, numbers.

I suppose it’s always a good excuse to go back?

More Country Corner in this week’s paper