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Procession of caterpillars sign of frosty time ahead

Donna Coutts, April 16, 2020 6:45PM Kids News

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The procession of caterpillars videoed at Alice Springs, NT. Picture: The Kangaroo Sanctuary Alice Springs via Storyful media_cameraThe procession of caterpillars videoed at Alice Springs, NT. Picture: The Kangaroo Sanctuary Alice Springs via Storyful


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A massive procession of caterpillars has paraded through Alice Springs.

The incredible collective was videoed by staff at a kangaroo sanctuary in the Northern Territory on Tuesday.

It was estimated to be more than 7m long.

The Kangaroo Sanctuary Alice Springs posted the video and this comment on Facebook: “They are famous for walking in processions. Each caterpillar when it walks leaves a thread of silk for the next one to follow them. Cool hey.”

Ridiculously Long Procession Caterpillar Spotted in Alice Springs, Australia

The Northern Territory government’s website warns against touching what are called processionary caterpillars. They are the larvae of the bag-shelter moth and the hairs leave human skin itchy for days.

Supplied Editorial media_cameraThe nest of the bag-shelter moth hanging in a tree in Central Australia.

But the processionary caterpillars are much more than just fascinating or irritating for the indigenous Arrernte people of Central Australia.

The length of the procession is an indicator of how harsh the coming cold season will be and whether there will be extreme frosts — the longer the procession, the more extreme the cold.

This helps people know when certain foods will be available, or unavailable, which is essential for survival if you’re living traditionally from the land.

The Larapinta trail winds its way through the Australian outback desert in the West Macdonell ranges media_cameraLarapinta Trail, a walking trek that begins near Alice Springs. Living traditionally in the harsh environment of Central Australia relies on observing nature for signs of future conditions. Picture: istock

Northern Territory Parks and Wildlife explained in a Facebook post: “For the Arrernte people of Central Australia such observations have been vital for surviving the harsh conditions of the Australian desert.

“Arandic* languages name two broad seasons: the ‘hot season’ and the ‘cold season’.

“For Arrernte people the length of the train of processionary caterpillars (iwepe, the juveniles* of the bag-shelter moth) is an indicator of the severity* of the forthcoming cold season.”

Some foods may only be available in the mild time between seasons, for instance, and in some years this mild time could be quite short.

Frosty - the icy ground in Alice Springs looking north from eastside, with temperatures hitting sub zero in Alice Springs. Taken at about 7:30am Wednesday morning media_cameraDeserts can experience extreme heat and cold, including frost. This is a frosty morning when the temperature was below 0C in Alice Springs, NT.


  • Arandic: family of indigenous languages from Central Australia
  • juveniles: young
  • severity: how severe or extreme something is


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  1. What is the video about and where and when was it filmed?
  2. Should you pick up or touch these caterpillars? Why or why not?
  3. What sort of moth do these caterpillars become?
  4. Why do you think the moths have this name?
  5. What are the seasons in Arandic languages?


1. Write a Story
Imagine that you are one of the caterpillars in today’s story. Write a story about the procession from your point of view.

Time: allow 40 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: English, Science

2. Extension
Why do you think that the length of the procession is a good indicator of how harsh the coming winter will be?

Time: allow at least 15 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: English, Science, Critical and Creative Thinking

A Caterpillar Prediction
If the procession of caterpillars was 7m long, do you think that means it will be cold or not that cold this winter?

Create a news report as if you are the reporter onsite at the kangaroo sanctuary.

Let everyone know about what the size of the progression means, and if we should celebrate or prepare.

Try filming your news report, maybe you can even dress up as a reporter for performing arts practice.

Remember a news reporter needs to be entertaining and engaging, so be expressive.

HAVE YOUR SAY: How do you know what weather is coming? Is there anything in nature you rely on?
No one-word answers. Use full sentences to explain your thinking. No comments will be published until approved by editors.

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