Defiler

I've been living out of a bag for the last 3 weeks, working hard on a series of intense but fun audits. After running in high gear for a while I find that I need a mental palate cleanser - something to help me refocus and stop me from getting snowblind. I then grab my camera, strap on my macro rig, and walk out the door to try to catch the local wildlife in the act. It's become a bit of a game - the aim is to catch creatures in their natural setting and leave them completely undisturbed when I go, with no posing, prodding or other disturbances. Getting a usable shot of a 5mm target sitting on a twig swaying in the wind is a fun challenge.

Today I find myself in Sydney, working in a part of the town that is shot through with unreasonably beautiful walking tracks. The place is also blessed with a huge diversity of invertebrate life that makes my adopted home town seem barren by comparison. I walked along a nearby track until I found a quiet, leafy spot, geared up, and leopard-crawled through the underbrush. Not long after, I came face-to-face with this imposing little chap sitting on the tip of a fern frond.

This is a Lymantriid caterpillar of some variety, probably one of the tussock moths native to Australia. "Lymantria" means "defiler" - some species of this family can cause huge damage to foliage, and are considered to be destructive pests. So much so, that when a single male Gypsy Moth (Lymantria dispar) was discovered in Hamilton, New Zealand, they sprayed the entire city with a caterpillar-specific bacterial insecticide.

No need for drastic measures with this particular fellow, though - he's native to this ecosystem, and the only pest is me and my camera. He was head down munching away when I found him, and paid absolutely no attention to me when I moved in close to get these shots. He's got reason to be cocksure, too - those tufts of hair on his back contain hollow, poison-filled spines that can cause a pretty unpleasant reaction when touched.

An few hours exploring and photographing is a very effective brain-cleaner, leaving me ready to deal with spiny, venomous defilers of the digital variety.