Stephen Kirkpatrick

Thursday, May 3, 2012

In The Eye Of The Beholder

Meadow Beauty (Rhexia alifanus)

Before dawn Tuesday morningI headed out on a scouting mission for On A Roll, exploring the fields and swampy woods near the Ross Barnett Reservoir. Springtime has arrived here, ushered in on the fresh green of new leaves, the songs of migrating birds, and the fuzzy backs of caterpillars soon to become butterflies. While searching for something for On A Roll, I snapped a few shots with my Nikon P7000 point-and-shoot, enjoying these signs of spring.

Green Tree Frog (Hyla cinerea

Early May in Mississippi also brings a profusion of flora in every stage of bloom, which while lovely to behold, is also a terrible trigger for my allergies (yes, I know – a wildlife and nature photographer allergic to the outdoors – the irony has not escaped me), so I wasn’t surprised when my eyes began watering and the sneeze attack started. But I wasn’t prepared for what happened next. 

                                                                                Spiderwort (Tradescantia ohiensis)

As I wiped my watery eyes, my left eyeball suddenly exploded with searing pain. Instantly both eyes were in full-blown wash mode – to describe them as “watering” would be a gross understatement. My first instinct was, of course, to rub the eye vigorously, which, of course, made it worse.

I made it back to my Suburban and used some clean towels to wipe my face, but the damage had been done. My eye was already swollen shut and was still swelling, as though I’d been punched. I drove out, feeling as though I had a jagged edged rock rolling around beneath my eyelid.

Fortunately, my optometrist is also my neighbor and a friend. I headed straight for his office, arriving just as the doors opened. A variety of eye drops and an ice pack later, he sent me home, where I laid in a dark room and reviewed the morning, wondering what I’d stumbled into.


Flipping through an ID guide, I found the culprit. That cute, prickly caterpillar I’d photographed – and nudged, just before touching my eye – was a buck moth caterpillar (Hemileuca maia), one of the 20 most venomous, “stinging” caterpillars in North America. The buck moth doesn’t have a stinger like a wasp or bee, so it didn’t sting me “on purpose.” Instead, its venom is contained in glands which bear stiff, hollow hairs or spines like tiny hypodermic needles through which the venom flows upon contact.  These special venomous spines are called urticating hairs, a name from the plant family name that includes nettles. Obviously, at some point my hands or clothing came into contact with the spines and I transferred them into my eye. Mystery solved.

Two days later, my eye is almost back to normal, and while I regret the pain it caused me, I do have a cautionary tale to go along with my photos of the buck moth caterpillar.

Moral of the story – sometimes beauty is literally in the eye of the beholder.

Buck Moth Caterpillar (Hemileuca maia)

(all photos taken with Nikon P7000)

1 comment:

  1. That is one dangerous looking caterpillar!!!
    Be careful out there! You could run into something even worse!


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