White-marked Tussock Moth

The kids in Art Camp last week found a gorgeous caterpillar:
Whitemarked Tussock Caterpillar 2

Here’s the side view:
Whitemarked Tussock Caterpillar

The kids brought it up to the Education Staff Office to find out what kind of caterpillar it was. White-marked Tussock Moth (Orgyia leucostigma). As is my custom, just an ID is never enough.  So I dug around a bit and found out that this caterpillar can be found in spring or summer eating a variety of tree leaves.  The young larva skeletonize leaves, the older ones eat entire leaves.  Some of those bristles are the type that may cause a mild skin reaction.

The larva construct cocoons under branches, or in the bark of a host tree and pupate inside it.  tussock femaleIn our case, the caterpillar constructed its cocoon on the underside of the lid of the observation jar we had it in.  The picture at right is not our cocoon.  I borrowed it from the Auburn University page about this species. In the picture, the adult female has already emerged from the cocoon and is sitting on top of it.

tussock male - also borrowed from the Auburn University PageWe expect to have an adult moth in two weeks.  If it turns out to be female, she will be flightless.  Out in the big world, a male would have to find her near the cocoon from which she emerges and mate with her.  Shortly after that, she might lay up to 300 eggs right on her cocoon.

tussock1eggs from www.ag.auburn.eduIf eggs are laid in early summer, those eggs may hatch and start the cycle again.  If later, the eggs will overwinter.

I don’t know how important the cocoon is to the success of the eggs.  If we remove the female to a tree without her cocoon, will she be able to attract a mate, and lay eggs on the bark, or under a branch?  Perhaps we’ll be able to remove the cocoon from the observation jar and place the whole thing outside…

In the flurry of activity that is Day Camp, I can’t promise that I will follow up this story… But I’ll try.

Learn more:

14 thoughts on “White-marked Tussock Moth

  1. That first photo is amazing. I’ve seen these caterpillars before, but obviously not with the kind of attention that you brought to this one.

  2. I work at a Salon in Kentucky and on out lunch break one day I found one of these cridders, they are so beautiful. One of my co workers swore that it was poisonous and that it had a stinger. Needless to say I will tell her about this tomorrow to prove her wrong.

  3. Thank you, so much! About a week ago, my nine-year-old daughter, (who fancies herself a junior entomologist,) found a caterpillar and wanted to keep it. Pop! Into an old pickle jar. We live in Western Kentucky and have been google-ing like crazy, trying to ID our fuzzy new friend. Tonight, we hit the jackpot with your site, complete with photos that match the ones we took that first day! We’ve been through the cocoon stage, the pupa dropped out this morning and we’re just observing further development. Your site, so chock full of information for us, has just raised an already high level of enthusiasm! Thank you, thank you, thank you!

  4. I recently found a White Marked Tussock Moth. My pre-k class wanted to put it in a butterfly home so we did. He crawled around for a couple of days and now he is on the side of the home and some white fuzzy looking stuff is forming around him/her. it almost looks dead but i feel like it might be cocooning. How long does it take for that to happen? Could my poor caterpillar be dead?

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