Pandora moth caterpillar. photo by Ted Schroeder
Pandora moth caterpillar. photo by Ted Schroeder
When I rolled into Bend on my Harley in 1951 I didn’t know a Pandora moth from a monarch butterfly. It wasn’t until 1986 that they both entered my life, but the first to arrive was the moth; the monarchs came later when my wife, Sue, started monitoring the butterflies at Lava Beds National Monument south of Klamath Falls.

During the summer of that year the state highway department had to begin sanding Highway 97 south of Bend because of motor vehicles smashing big, fat Pandora moth caterpillars trying to cross the highway, causing the pavement to get as slick as snot on a doorknob.

Right this minute — based on the phone calls and emails I’ve received — there’s a whole bunch of these moths wandering all over the forests of our area.

They’ve reached their maximum size as caterpillars, quietly pigging out on pine tree needles the last year, and are now down from their forest café looking for a place to bury themselves in the earth where they will undergo what I call the “Miracle of Nature,” aka metamorphosis.

Just think, that fat and juicy slug-like animal will bury itself in the soil, weave a silken nightshirt (cocoon) and change into another animal. What gets me is the caterpillar doesn’t die.

The life that’s in it is transferred to the new animal that will emerge from the cocoon. But unlike it’s predecessor, the caterpillar, the new animal has three body parts: head, thorax and abdomen, plus sex organs to reproduce, wings to fly, a different breathing mechanism, but no chewing mouth.

Anyway, if things go as the moth planned, next summer (or the one after, depending on weather) there will be adult Pandora moths all over the place, flying around the night lights and roosting on the walls of our buildings during the day.

The beneficiaries of this bounty are the predators that eat them, such as squirrels, martens, and a number of birds. However, there’s just enough yellow on the caterpillar to warn birds they may not taste very good, and might even make them sick.

Then there’s the parasites. If you don’t like the idea of caterpillars eating your pine tree needles, please don’t go out and buy a bunch of chemicals. There are a host of parasites that just love to lay their eggs in the caterpillars and they take a pretty good toll, and using chemicals will kill the predators and parasites as well.

Bats will think they have died and gone to heaven with all those delicious moths flying all over the place, and you’ll have something to entertain you if you have your supper out on the back deck.