hickory tussock

Wildlife at Smith: Invertebrate Edition

One of my favorite parts of Smith is the amazing diversity of wildlife you can find right on campus. Smith’s campus is technically an arboretum, with a huge diversity of plants and trees. These attract some beautiful birds, mammals, and, best of all…bugs

I know what you’re thinking. “Sylvie, no one wants to hear about what kind of bugs there are at Smith.” Well, hypothetical straw man, I think you’re wrong. As much as I would love to encourage everyone to grow their appreciation of creepy-crawlies like spiders and centipedes, this post won’t feature any stereotypically “freaky” bugs. Instead, here are seven of the coolest or cutest bugs you can find right on campus. (All photos taken by me with my phone!)

1. Hickory Tussock Moth Caterpillar

Aww, look, how fluffy! These cutie pies are common sights on trees around Massachusetts. However, although they look soft, it’s not recommended that you handle these guys, as their hairs contain a toxic compound that can cause rashes in humans. Look, but don’t touch!

2. Northern Katydid

These amazing critters mimic leaves so well that you’ll rarely see them! I only caught sight of this guy because he happened to be hobbling along a sidewalk. Katydids are related to crickets and grasshoppers, and are able to make a loud, piercing call.

3. Reticulated Net-Winged Beetle

Look at this beauty! These common beetles are harmless orange-and-black insects that are commonly seen in the late summer and early fall. Normally, they keep their wings folded together, but I happened to snap a picture of this one right as she was taking off in flight.

4. North American Millipede

Millipedes are one of our most beneficial resident arthropods. They are natural composters who hang out in the soil and clean up dead leaves. They are also perfectly harmless–most will curl up into a ball if you startle them, but as you can see, this little guy was curious enough to crawl all over my hand.

5. Chinese Mantis

As one of the biggest bugs you’ll find in the U.S., praying mantises are an impressive sight! These lovely creatures are a great benefit to gardens and greenhouses, as they eat lots of smaller plant-destroying critters, like aphids. This particular species is fairly common on Smith campus, and is easily recognizable by its brownish body and green striped wing. 

6. Red Saddlebags Skimmer Dragonfly

This gorgeous red dragonfly is commonly seen near the river on hot days. Dragonflies are difficult to photograph because they are incredibly skittish. They have fantastic eyesight and an ability to discriminate between colors that is far superior to humans and most other animals. In other words, they usually see you before you see them!

7. Stag Beetle

I saved this guy for last, because I think he’s the most amazing creature you could possibly find on campus! These shiny beetles are reclusive and nocturnal, so consider yourself very lucky if you ever get to see one–this one here is the only one I’ve had the opportunity to see. Although their huge mandibles look menacing, stag beetles are actually herbivores, and generally only use their jaws for courtship and combat with other males.

That’s all the bugs I’ll bore you with for now! It was so hard to narrow this list down to only seven bugs, as there are so many awesome ones you can find if you look closely! I hope you’ve gained at least a little appreciation for the awesome diversity of animals we have on campus, and maybe you can impress your friends by referring to them by name.


Unidentified spider presumably caught and killed a hickory tussock moth larva. The fuzzy caterpillar was found in the clutch of this spider, the spider did not back away from his kill even when I shoved my macro lens right in his face. It did eventually back away and use its front arms to brush its face.  The tussock moth larva are supposedly covered in barbed hairs that are very irritating.
My best friend can detest to this, she once brushed against one sitting on a leaf and was left with a small, red, raised painful spot on her leg. She said it felt like a burn.

When I left the scene an ant had begun circling the carcass, the next day the dead bug was gone.