The caterpillar for the White-marked Tussock Moth looks almost alien, but be sure to look and not touch.
The long, spiky tufts of hairs give fair warning to anyone or anything that tries to touch this species' larva. The White-marked Tussock Moth caterpillar is covered with them and the chemicals that are transferred onto skin when they are touched can cause an allergic reaction in humans resulting in redness, irritation, and welts. Pruritic dermatitis (itching) is commonly seen in small children who come into contact with it, or its cocoon, on the playground. It also has four tight tufts of yellowish-white hairs that look like pom poms on its back near the bright red head. These hairs are barbed, making them difficult to remove from skin. Two clusters of long black quills extend from either side of the head. Beneath an array of black and white hairs is a yellow-and-black striped body that ends in another cluster of long brown-black hairs at the tip of the abdomen.
By comparison, the adult form of White-marked Tussock seems dull. Adult moths, however, do have remarkable feathery antennae and tufts of hair on their legs. They are on the wing year-round in warmer regions. Adults and larvae can be found in forested areas. Both deciduous and evergreen trees are host plants. In northern areas, this species has caused damage on Christmas tree farms.
Female moths are flightless and stay near their own empty cocoons. Eggs are laid on it and covered with a secretion to protect them. Shortly after doing this, the female moth dies. The eggs overwinter and caterpillars emerge in the spring. After growing, the spiky caterpillar weaves a white cocoon around itself that resembles a white ball of laundry lint with some long black hairs woven throughout it. Irritation is possible if touched. After pupating for a couple of weeks, the adult emerges.
Scientific Name: Orgyia leucostigma
Butterfly or Moth
Size (Adult; Length): 12mm to 35mm (0.47in to 1.37in)
Note: An insect's reach is not limited by lines drawn on a map and therefore species may appear in areas, regions and/or states beyond those listed above as they are driven by environmental factors (such as climate change), available food supplies and mating patterns. Grayed-out selections indicate that the subject in question has not been reported in that particular territory. U.S. states and Canadian provinces / territories are clickable to their respective bug listings.
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.