Category Archives: Wildlife

Hemileuca Larvae: Do Not Touch!

On a recent hike near Carson Pass in Alpine County, I encountered this critter crawling vigorously across a dry swale in the subalpine dwarf-shrub steppe at 8,900 feet.

Hemileuca heraHemileuca hera larva

It was about the size of my little finger and was about to disappear under an Eriogonum, so I coaxed it onto a stick and moved it to a large rock, where I took pictures while it resumed its ascent toward Red Lake Peak. The spines all over its body made it look about as fun to handle as a cholla cactus or porcupine, so I used the stick to prevent any direct contact.

That was a good thing, because on doing an image search in Google and checking further on Butterflies and Moths of North America and Bug Guide, I narrowed it down to Hemileuca hera, the Hera buck moth or Sagebrush sheep moth. The larvae of Buck moths and the related Io moths (both Saturniids) are well known for the extremely painful, persistent, burning, swelling stings produced when the spines inject their toxin into your skin.

Hemileuca habitatHemileuca hera habitat

An article on the University of Florida’s Featured Creatures site advises that “Not handling caterpillars that have spines is one of the best ways to avoid receiving stings.” Obvious, but sensible advice. Should you, however, inadvertently come into contact with one of these beautiful creatures, the wound should be treated by “washing the site immediately in order to remove any loose spines that might be present. The site should be allowed to dry without the use of a towel. Any remaining spines should then be removed with an adhesive such as duct tape. Finally you can apply ice packs to the site to relieve some of the pain.”

Hemileuca hera has been seen in the Mono Basin and it ranges across much of the Intermountain region, so it is likely to be present in the Bodie Hills. The larvae feed on sagebrush. The adults have striking white and black patterns on their wings.

Copyright © Tim Messick 2015. All rights reserved.

Bighorns at The Elbow

Last weekend (in late March), I drove east along the north edge of the Bodie Hills, following the well-graded forest road NF-028. The East Walker River flows east here between the Bodie Hills to the south and the Pine Grove Hills to the north. In a canyon at the edge of Fletcher Valley, the river makes a couple of sharp bends at a place called “The Elbow.” From here the river flows north toward Yerington.

Desert Bighorn Sheep

Desert Bighorn Sheep

Desert Bighorn SheepI hardly expected to see four adult male desert bighorn sheep (Ovis canadensis nelsoni), but suddenly here they were, on a hillside below the grade called “Dead Ox Pitch”, jogging south toward a steep, rocky hillside. Had they been grazing in meadows near the river? Was this unusual? Has the very dry winter and 4-year drought forced them to visit areas they would usually avoid? Did they continue on into the Bodie Hills or return to the Pine Grove Hills? Apparently these animals are known to occur in the Pine Grove Hills. (If you’re a sheep biologist, please leave a comment!)

The Elbow from Dead Ox Pitch

The Elbow from Dead Ox Pitch

East Walker River at The Elbow

East Walker River at The Elbow


Another interesting view along NF-028: from where the road crests a hill just east of the paved highway (Nevada 338), you can look south across the valley of the East Walker into the bottom of Masonic Gulch. With binoculars, you can make out a stand of Jeffrey pine trees (Pinus jeffreyi), part of the largest stand in the Bodie Hills. It continues south in Masonic Gulch to about the California state line.

Jeffrey pines in Masonic Gulch

Jeffrey pines (at the bright circle) in Masonic Gulch

© Tim Messick 2015. All rights reserved.