Strangest thing in a very long time!
I have been running around in the woods for a very, very, very (yes, three verys) long time and I had never seen anything like what I encountered yesterday.
At first glance, it simply looked like a bird's down feather, recently molted and clinging to a branch. But on closer inspection, there were more than one. And, they appeared to be crawling. Nature fact #207: Feathers don't crawl.
They also had a penchant of "circling up," front end to back end, locomotive to caboose.
I tried to pick one up and the feathery filaments came off in my fingers like the white residue of a powered donut.
D--- odd-looking caterpillar, but butterfly or moth? I knew not which.
It took awhile to ferret out their identity, Karen Sue helped, and the world wide web. According to Featured Creature Carly what I had encountered were "Butternut Woollyworms (Eriocampa juglandis) which are the larvae of a species of sawfly." Larvae that like to eat butternut leaves, perhaps walnut.
So they weren't caterpillars! O-D-D.
But it gets odder. Carly continues, "Unfortunately, they don’t stay so sweet and cuddly looking. They will eventually crawl down into the soil and form a pupa where they will silently wait until they transform into their adult fly versions. The white strings are waxy filaments that deter predators from making a quick meal out of the larvae."
Sawflies—really more wasp than fly—are members of the order Hymenoptera with broad connections between the head and thorax and caterpillar-like larva. The females use their saw-like ovipositors to cut into plant stems to lay their eggs.
Did I say, ODD?