Sunday, June 3, 2012

western tussock moth ~ 06/03/12 ~ Garrapata

Here's a change of pace from all the plants I've been posting lately. We found this strikingly beautiful caterpillar on a fence post near the barn on the inland side of the Hwy. Similarly to many CNPS members' complaints about not recognizing family and name changes in the new 2012 edition of the Jepson Manual (often considered the Bible for CA native plant folks), the taxonomy of insects has also changed considerably since I studied them almost 20 years ago (geez, I think I'm getting old).

The bunched tufts (hence the name tussock) on its back are often compared to the bristles of a toothbrush. These tufts are typical of many members of the Lymantriinae subfamily (formerly Lymantriidae family). I do not know if the hairs of the western tussock moth caterpillar are urticating, which is something to be careful about with any hairy caterpillar. Even if the hairs do not actually sting like a nettle plant, I've found I can get a rash after handling lots of hairy caterpillars.

Now, the name tussock moth is not limited to Lymantriinae. Most members of Arctiinae (formerly Arctiidae) are very hairy and some are also called tussock moths, such as some Euchaetes spp., Halysidota spp., Leucanopsis spp., and Lophocampa spp. (like this spotted tussock moth I found 06/09/10).

As last notes, the adult female is wingless and looks almost like a fat fuzzy caterpillar herself. She waits for a male to arrive before laying eggs on her used cocoon. Joyce Gross from University of California, Berkeley has done an excellent job posting pictures and information at various online sites for Orgyia vetusta, including the Moth Photographers Group.


Anna Simpson said...

Lovely photograph, watching a caterpillar metamorphosing into a butterfly is truly magnificent. I'm from the UK and we have a Pale Tussock moth here :)

Katie (Nature ID) said...

Thanks, Anna. I've added you to my blog reading list. Will be curious to see what you feature.