My Photo Journal: American Dagger Moth Caterpillar at Black Creek Pioneer Village

Remember what I said after we escaped unscathed from the encounter with a White-Marked Tussock Moth (Orgyia leucostigma) caterpillar at Rouge Park? Never again, I lectured my family, will we pick up unknown creepy-crawlies, and let them roam unchecked over bare skin where they could cause bumps, rashes, welts or worse. I went on along this line of reasoning for at least ten minutes, ad nauseam, and I saw two heads bob in agreement that of course, I was absolutely right.

Well, guess what?

The two "kids" - my husband, the gleefully bug-obsessed, and my daughter, the intrepidly curious - almost stepped on this fuzzy, bright yellow caterpillar with black, spiky "hair" as we were walking through the grass in front of Burwick House at Black Creek Pioneer Village. Since there was a pretty big horde of pre-schoolers and summer campers running around (we had seen two big school buses pull up with them when we arrived), the caterpillar naturally had to be "rescued" so it wouldn't get trampled if a stampede should ensue! Whether it was dumb luck, tough skin, mutant genes or a combination of all three, the audacious duo once more escaped unharmed from handling the furry critter.

According to a Google search, the hairs or setae of the American Dagger Moth (Acronicta americana) caterpillar can trigger mild to severe reactions in people. It seems to affect children more (I guess they are less tolerant of the toxin contained in the black "spikes") so I wouldn't advise letting your child touch it unless you're prepared to risk a possible trip to the doctor. Here is a somewhat old but really good link to a post and comments about the caterpillar's behavior and lifecycle, and here is a post from Kelly, a Cincinnati mom whose son did experience a reaction. You can also find a link to "stinging" caterpillars in Kelly's post.

I probably won't be able to stop my husband and daughter from touching or handling any more creatures they find in the wild - both are extremely inquisitive - so I guess the next best thing is to stay informed and educated about the different species we might come across. Come to think of it, investing in a few pairs of fine latex gloves might not be a bad idea either! :)

(This post was originally published in August 2012.) © All rights reserved.

My Photo Journal: Day Trip to Rouge Park

Having been so busy with work, school and camp these last few weeks, we haven't had much time to go for long family walks like we usually do. Last Sunday being the one day in a long while since we had nothing pressing on the agenda, we decided to head to Rouge Park for some hiking. Rouge Park is considered one of Toronto's best-kept secrets; located just twenty minutes (on a good day) from the downtown core, this green space provides kids and grown-ups with plenty of opportunities to enjoy myriad outdoor activities in its more than 40 square kilometres. This area was recently declared a national urban park, the first of its kind in Canada. This means that it will receive funding from the federal government, thus helping to ensure the longevity and sustainability of a much-needed bastion against urban sprawl.

We're the most familiar with the Glen Rouge Trailhead entrance, which is also the site of the Glen Rouge Campground, located at 7450 Kingston Road in the GTA's extreme east end, near the Scarborough-Pickering border. You can find some trail maps here. The park also offers guided nature hikes, which is great if you're a new visitor, and unsure of where to explore first.

Once we were parked, my daughter was raring to go despite the sweltering heat (oh, to be three again). We managed to slow her down long enough to slather on the requisite sunscreen and insect repellent. It was during this process that we noticed a "cute" caterpillar, looking pathetically lost (and hot) on top of a metal recycling receptacle. Being a veteran animal rescuer (too many Dora and Diego DVDs; if you're a parent, you'll know what I mean), my daughter immediately wanted to help it find its way back home to a nice tree.

We didn't realize until later that this was the caterpillar of the white-marked tussock moth, and that the hairs/bristles could cause an allergic reaction in some people. My husband and daughter didn't experience any adverse effects from handling it but I don't think we'll be taking any more chances on "rescuing" wildlife that we don't recognize!

This portion of Rouge Park seems particularly popular with pole trekkers so you'll see large groups of them moving at a brisk pace with their hiking poles, awash in gregarious camaraderie. They are very friendly and never fail to shower you with cheerful "Hellos" and "Good mornings" as you pass; their joy is slightly surreal but highly infectious, and leaves us with smiles on our faces.

The terrain gets quite hilly in a couple of places but most of the time, the slopes are gentle enough for a three year-old and a forty-something with creaky knees to handle. Here and there, you can see the results of erosion - trees with twisted and gnarled roots perch precariously atop ground that has washed away.

Once you've climbed past the hilly parts, the forest does offer up long stretches of even, meandering paths where three year-olds can run, hop, jump and skip to their heart's content while her parents enjoy relatively uninterrupted moments of civilized conversation. The day we were there, sudden but brief summer cloudbursts had amplified the smell of rotting vegetation, and the aroma of wild mushrooms punctuate the air with pithy pungency. There are lots of fallen logs for my daughter to clamber over, to use as balance beams, and irresistibly, as pirate gangplanks (there are also stumps of varying heights that make for great lookout points). We always stay on the path; I've had one run-in with poison ivy when I got a little carried away with trying to take a picture of a chipmunk and have no intention of repeating that painful episode!

After an hour or so on the trail, we decide to turn around. Although it has been fairly cool under the trees, the humidity is getting to us, and we're ready for refreshments. About a fifteen minute drive away from the Glen Rouge Campground is MacMillan Orchards, located at 733 Kingston Road East in the neighboring municipality of Ajax, Ontario (not to be confused with another MacMillan Orchards in Acton, Ontario). We're in the mood for some frozen yogurt, which MacMillan makes in-house. They are quite generous with the frozen fruit that you can add to your icy treat and the result is a rich, creamy, not-too-sweet thirst-quencher that is supremely satisfying!

MacMillan also sells a variety of frozen pies, vegetables and meat. We pick up a sugar-free cherry pie for my husband while my daughter selects a rhubarb and Saskatoon berry pie, and some baby-sized red velvet cupcakes (I let her get away with it since she did have quite the workout). We leave the country store happy and satisfied with the morning outing, knowing we still have goodies to look forward to that night as well as a couple of days to come! Don't you just love long, drawn-out happiness? :)

(This post was originally published in July 2012.) © All rights reserved.