Sometimes a bit of youthful color in a caterpillar spills over into adulthood as is the case with the Milkweed Tussock Moth.
One of many insects that live on and eat from the Milkweed plant, the native Milkweed Tussock Moth spends its whole life around one species of vegetation. Like other Tiger Moths, the Milkweed Tussock Moth sports some bright, alarming colors like red, black, and orange. This gives a fair warning to would-be predators that the insect is not good to eat. The Milkweed plant sap that the moth feeds on contains a toxic chemical called cardenolide and it accumulates in the body of whatever eats it. Monarch butterflies, Milkweed Bugs, and this moth are prime examples of insects that benefit from this toxicity.
Adults are active from late spring to early autumn. Their wings are a drab gray color, but their bright yellow bodies are marked with rows of black spots on the sides. Females lay fertilized eggs in clusters on milkweed leaves. Newly hatched caterpillars begin as yellowish tubes with tiny black heads and are covered in white wispy hairs. They immediately begin chewing up milkweed leaves, leaving the veins behind. As caterpillars progress through their instars, colorful changes take over. The simple white hairs grow longer and the caterpillar gets covered in a mostly black coat. This is accented with bright orange-red hairs that almost form rings around each segment. Sets of long, white lashes project out of the head and rear. They are voracious eaters at every stage and can skeletonize a milkweed plant if decent numbers of them are present. Two broods can be produced in one year.
Look for Milkweed Tussock Moths anywhere milkweed grows. This includes parks, gardens, roadsides, fields, and meadows. Check under leaves and along stems for the multicolored caterpillar.
Scientific Name: Euchaetes egle
Other Name(s): Milkweed Tiger Moth
Butterfly or Moth
Size (Adult; Length): 22mm to 43mm (0.86in to 1.68in)
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Butterfly and Moth Anatomy
Antennae: Butterflies and Moths have a pair of antennae on the head used as sensors.
Head: The head is home to the insect's eyes, antennae, and proboscis.
Thorax: Home to the three pairs of legs as well as vital internal organs.
Abdomen: Contains vital internal organs such as the heart(s) and reproduction facilities.
Forewing: The upper, forward wing pair used for flying.
Hindwing: The lower, rearward wing pair used for flying.
NOTE: Butterflies and Moths are part of the Lepidopteran order as they share many similarities.