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    THV Wants To Know: "Raining noise" in Ark. trees

    5:37 PM, Jul 4, 2013   |    comments
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    LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (KTHV) - What sounds like rain could be something very different, especially if the sounds is coming from an oak tree. It's actually something falling from within the trees.

    "A lot of folks think it's a seed and no it's not seed, it's excrement," said Tamara Walkingstick, an associate professor of forestry at UALR.

    The sound, which resembles rain, is actually coming from droppings falling from an oak tree. Walkingstick says the critter responsible for this waste is a very hungry caterpillar, which varies in size and color. These leaf-eating critters are known as variable oak-leaf caterpillars and their feeding season is at its peak in early July.

    "It's just part of our ecosystem," Walkingstick explained. "We don't often notice it, this time of year when we wonder what we're hearing because it sounds like rain and we look in the sky and there is no rain then we get curious and want to know well what is that."

    Some people in the area have called Walkingstick's office concerned that they may lose their trees to the insect.

    "The tree will put on new leaves and, if it's a relatively healthy tree, it will be fine," she said.

    The only threat the caterpillar waste really poses is that it might stain some surfaces.
    Maryanne Stansbury, a park interpreter at Pinnacle Mountain State Park, said the pellets can be found all over the park.

    Stansbury credits the good weather for the caterpillars healthy appetite.

    "They're hungry and there's food," Stansbury said. "If it eats it poops."

    The insects feed on all oak tree species, but white oak is their favorite. Experts say in the next phase, the caterpillar will turn into an adult moth. By late August and early September, we may see another bout with the Variable Oakleaf Caterpillar.


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