by Mary Reid Barrow
As I walked down the driveway, a little green inchworm dropped on its silky life line from the sweetgum tree. It stopped in its travels when it saw me and swayed right in front of my face.
Uh, oh, the inchworm must have said when my head loomed. The critter probably made an instinctive drop out of the tree to escape a hungry bird only to find itself face to face with me, a much bigger predator down below.
The tiny inchworm hurriedly began hunching its back, trying to climb back up its life line to the relative safety of the tree many feet above.
Go, little inchworm, go, go, go, I thought as I watched it win some inches and lose some on its mighty climb:
Once back in the tree, our little inchworm is probably spending time growing plump dining on sweet gum leaves. Then it will spin its cocoon and emerge as a moth this fall or next spring.
Yes, it will be a moth which means an inchworm is a worm in name only. It’s really a caterpillar, a member of the Geometridae family of moths.
There are more than a thousand species of these small, delicate fairly non-descript moths in the United States. Every year during the warm months thousands upon thousands of their little inchworm babies are in our gardens and trees, mostly unseen, unless they drop down for an unintended visit like this one did.
Geometer caterpillars are unlike other caterpillars because they have legs at the front and back of their bodies but none in the middle. When they move, they travel looping between their back and front legs, as if they are measuring something. They also are sometimes called measuring worms or spanworms.
Depending on what species of moth they are, inchworms dine on any number of trees, flowers and veggies both in spring and fall, but unless there happens to be a real infestation of them, they do no harm.
Inchworm species are very hard to identify. They come in several colors, but many are all green, just like my inchworm above and just like the little inchworm in this video of Danny Kaye and the Muppets singing “The Inchworm Song:”
Do you have a favorite tree or plant with a story to tell? What relationships have you observed between plants and critters? Who eats whom? Who has babies where? Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org