Clog Report: Where in Berkeley are the caterpillars?

Illustration of hand with caterpillars and moths
Olivia Staser/Staff

The semester started off as it usually does, but with one exception. While we still had those simple introductory lectures easing us back into school mode, we were also welcomed back by caterpillars. Hanging off of the oak trees, these bugs were renowned throughout campus for falling onto any unaware person walking to and from class. 

These caterpillars are known as California oak moth caterpillars, named for their diet of oak bark and leaves. While they tend to always be present in the Bay Area in smaller numbers, with a life cycle of two generations being born a year, they occasionally form large populations and are generally a menace wherever they decide to populate. Eating away at oak trees, these moths are pretty much plant vampires, causing century-old trees to die off on rare occasions.

“It was just so frustrating,” said Vic Thym, a UC Berkeley senior. “I had to add seven minutes on to my route to class because I’d be going through Upper Sproul Plaza instead of cutting through Faculty Glade. It was either be attacked by caterpillars or flyers, so there wasn’t really a choice. I was so relieved when they disappeared.”

Where did these little critters go? After scattering themselves across campus for two weeks and turning into moths, they practically disappeared, seemingly flying away and leaving behind little except for damaged and scarred oak trees.

Then, the academic papers on California oak moth caterpillars by UC Berkeley were published, and everything clicked together.

“I was also super confused by those weird worms disappearing. It was like they’d been snapped away by Thanos or something,” expressed Cade Erbillar, a student at the College of Natural Resources, or CNR. “At least now it makes sense. There’s no way they got those results without test subjects, and they were so easy to collect since they were all over campus.”

CNR is famous primarily for its studies on bugs, having done research on different kinds of animals and habitats. This often requires the collection of live samples to study in order to complete accurate research. Typical research from CNR looks into the anatomy of different species, revealing how the physical body aids basic biological functions.

The moths that the caterpillars evolved into and any caterpillars that had not yet evolved were collected by The Morth Group, a research lab in CNR that focuses on entomology, particularly the life cycles and migration patterns of UC Berkeley’s oak moths.

For Reese Earch, an undergraduate assistant at The Morth Group, collecting these species was a humorous experience: “It was actually pretty funny. You could see these professors, graduate students and even my GSI running around with nets and tubes, trying to pick up these slimy caterpillars and get the moths. I didn’t even realize it was for some research; I thought they were just doing it for stress relief, but it made sense when we got to lab.”

The Daily Californian attempted to reach out to professor Ma Morth for comment on research results and prospective future research but received no response.

If all of the caterpillars disappeared at once, however, it is expected that multiple studies were being conducted on the species and their habits, for which the research will be published in the coming months. “It’s all coming together,” Earch hinted. “I’m not personally working on any of the moth stuff, as it kind of creeps me out, but whatever I’ve seen so far looks super exciting. I think we’re really making a breakthrough on what these moths are all about, both habitually and biologically.”

“The Morth group is probably at its peak right now, and I can’t wait to see what we do in the future,” Earch said.

This is a satirical article written purely for entertainment purposes.

Contact Chandini Dialani at [email protected].