Compare and contrast: oak moth infestation vs. zombie apocalypse

To paraphrase Dave Barry, I don’t wish to toot my own horn, but I definitely deserve to win several Nobel prizes for my recent journalistic foresight regarding the oak moth infestation that is now in full swing on Stanford’s campus.  That one little chrysalis turned out to be quite the harbinger of doom.  Looking with fascination and mild horror at the rampaging hordes of caterpillars swarming the bases of the poor denuded oak trees, I am reminded of certain scenes from Shaun of the Dead, Evil Dead and Zombieland (because I am a coward about horror movies, the only zombie movies I know are the funny ones).

All those little brown/black lines are caterpillars swarming along the curb under an oak tree. Braiiiinnss....braaAAIIIiinnss...Oh I mean...oooaaak....ooOOAAKK...

Let’s take a moment to consider their similarities and differences, shall we?

  Zombies P. californica caterpillars Assessment
Grouping Rampaging hordes Rampaging hordes Identical
Hunger level Insatiably ravenous Insatiably ravenous Identical
Transition type  Innocuous human to Terrifying cannibal Terrifying predator to Innocuous moth Eerily similar
Aesthetics Oozy, decomposing (as zombie) Oozy, decomposing (during metamorphosis) Eerily similar
Target food group Humans (cannibalistic) Oak trees (herbivorous) Different
Reality Currently fictitious So very, very real Different

As you can see, the similarities are disconcertingly numerous. I would suggest we all head for the hills, except for there’s just more oak trees up there.

Oak moth caterpillar (Phryganidia californica), head pointed downwards. Dime included for scale. The greenish pellets are caterpillar droppings.

On a more serious note, it has really been a bummer to watch the oak trees lose their leaves and move from green to brown.  Last fall, Stanford responded with a multi-pronged approach to pest control that included insecticides, power-washing the trees, and introducing predators (detailed in this article).  If you have oak trees that are impacted by oak moth infestation, there are also commercial pest control companies that target oak moths (although caveat emptor: I don’t know much about the relative merits and weaknesses of the options out there).

Pre-infestation live oak tree.

Oak moth infested live oak trees.

I welcome any suggested additions to the zombie vs. caterpillar table!

I also welcome any suggested links or information from people who know more about oak moth infestation or management.

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6 thoughts on “Compare and contrast: oak moth infestation vs. zombie apocalypse

    • Miraculously, now that the moths have all metamorphosed, the oaks have recovered! Even the totally brown, bare ones are green again. Which raises a whole other scientific question of how the leaf meristems of live oaks manage to stay proliferative year-round. Maybe a post for later if I can find some literature…

  1. Pingback: Revenge of the Oak Moth | the everyday primate

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