Naturespeak A naturalist's view of the world

October 28, 2010

Capertillars in the Round

Filed under: Uncategorized — wykes @ 9:28 pm

I have an idea for a new game. It’s called capertillar (cap-er-till-er) curling. It’s like Canadian curling but more exciting, which is like saying that watching corn grow is more exciting than watching wheat grow, but never-the-less. The premise is easy – in fact, stupidly easy. The contestants (I guess two of them because it’s difficult to honestly compete against yourself) go out into the “wilds” and look for caterpillars. They alternately pick them up as found and, if the caterpillar rolls into a ball, then that contestant scores a point. If the picked ‘piller doesn’t ball up but instead stays straight, then a loud air horn is blasted right next to the ear of the contestant and everyone yells “capertillar, capertiller, not a ball but still a piller!”

By the end of the session, which ends after 16 caterpillars are encountered, the loser will be deaf and the winner wins a trip to the annual Woolly Bear festival in Vermillion, Ohio. How’s that for excitement. I said HOW’S THAT FOR EXCITEMENT!  I said H..O..W.., never mind, if you can’t hear me you aren’t the winner anyway.

I’ve still got some kinks to work out. What happens, for instance, if no caterpillars are found or only three are located? What if a contestant eats the caterpillar (which would be a distinct possibility given the fact that normal people wouldn’t think of playing this game). Should the ‘pillar consumer be penalized or perhaps shot in the foot? Oh yes, you laugh now but think of how golf and curling started.

In the process of conducting research for this game I did come up with a few points of reference. For instance, autumn is probably the best time to do this activity because of the plethora of curling caterpillars out there. Most of them are of the hairy variety – either members of the Tiger, Dagger, or Tussock Moth Clan. Cutworms, however, are hairless caterpillars in the smoothy category which also curl up when assaulted (maybe naked caterpillars are good for extra points, eh?).

I think that the key to being a good capertiller curler is knowing your quarry (wearing ear plugs is another key). Those black and brown banded Woolly Bears are perhaps the most famous of the fall Tiger Moth larvae and it’s likely that whole curling tournaments would be played using these little guys. But, I’d like to introduce you to a few of the lesser known curlers just in case.

The prickly caterpillar hairs of the Smeared Dagger Moth (see above) may look intimidating when the beast is curled (see below) but they are not all that sharp. The adult moth is an unassuming brownish gray thing with a faint (smeared) dagger-like mark on its forewings – thus the odd name. As a larva, the dagger is a wetland creature that feeds on a wide variety of plants such as willow, cat-tail, alder, and button bush. It overwinters as a pupa within a cocoon, so is unavailable for winter capertillar curling.

Somewhat friendlier looking, the Hickory Tiger Moth (see below) is a world class curler (see beginning photo). The second you pick the thing up it turns into a fuzzy tire. Despite the name, this larva feeds on walnut as well as hickory and can be found in the vicinity of either one.

It is important to point out that the entire basis of capertillar curling is caterpillar curling. They do this as a defensive reaction against potential predators. When disturbed, these insects roll together in order to protect their soft inner belly. The hairy larvas present a barrage of spiky hairs to their attacker and are difficult to handle when in such a pose, which is an intentional side effect. The smooth-skinned cutworms, on the other hand, are simply protecting their family jewels (even though they don’t really have any at that stage).

There is a final consideration regarding these curling caterpillars – one which, indeed, renders capertillar curling a sport rather than just a walk in the woods. Without exception, all of these curlers will not continue to stay in a tight curl more than a short time. They are not blindly attached to this tactic. If they are handled too roughly or held for too long, they abandon the curl, open up, and try to make a run for it.  Here is the variable factor that should make capertillar curling a real sport. For a curling to actually count, it must be held for at least 30 seconds. If the handled beast unwinds at exactly 29.09 seconds then it’s “WAAAAHNK!  Capertillar, capertiller, not a ball but still a piller!”

This could be big, folks, just you wait and see.


  1. I had to chuckle silently since I’m in the library, but I loved this article! If the rain lets up, I may have to go indulge myself in a round of Capertiller.

    Comment by Ellen — October 29, 2010 @ 3:46 pm

  2. As a hard-core lover of pillers from childhood, I think this is an outstanding idea. What’s more, I suspect I could convince my husband to play it with me, too. What fun!

    Comment by Woodswoman Extraordinaire — November 11, 2010 @ 5:57 pm

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