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. In 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.
We 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.
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.