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Buck Moth (Hemileuca maia)

Detailing the physical features, habits, territorial reach and other identifying qualities of the Buck Moth

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Image Credit: John from St. Mary's County, MD
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Image Credit: Hugo B., taken in CA
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Image Credit: Linda S. from Clarkesville, GA
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Image Credit: Hugo B., taken in CA
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Image Credit: Hugo B., taken in CA
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Image Credit: Hugo B., taken in CA
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Image Credit: Hugo B., taken in CA
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The large, hairy Buck Moth is an impressive sight to behold, but its stinging caterpillar offspring should always be avoided.

Updated: 04/22/2024; Authored By Staff Writer; Content ©www.InsectIdentification.org
Members of the Giant Silkworm and Royal Moth family, the wingspan of a Buck Moth is quite wide. The top side of each richly black wing is lined with a thick white line. On the forewings, this white line is interrupted by a yellow crescent shaped dash surrounded in black and resembles a closed eyespot. On the underside of the forewings, this yellow crescent is placed inside the thick white band. The furry thorax region is black with a white band by the head and two red spots near the joint for the wings. Black legs have furry cuffs of red on the upper parts. The thick abdomen is black and covered in fine white hairs, ending in a plume of red-orange hairs at the tail end in males, and black hairs in females.

The caterpillar of the Buck Moth is notorious for its painful stings. The body varies in overall color and may be black or reddish overall. It may be covered in white specks, too. All individuals have sharp bristles projecting from the entire body. These stinging hairs cause redness, itching, irritation, and pain. Buck Moth larvae feed on the leaves of one of the continent's most ubiquitous trees: oak.

Look for the Buck Moth's round white eggs clustered together around a branch forming a cuff or ring. The newly hatched larvae will stay together for a time, feeding in a group, but eventually venture off on their own. They move to the ground to pupate and may remain there for one to two years until they emerge as adults. Adults lack fully developed mouth parts and spend their time trying to reproduce instead of eating. Look for adults and caterpillars in areas where oak trees grow, both wild in forests and in more developed areas like neighborhoods and parks. Remember to avoid touching the spiky caterpillar.©InsectIdentification.org

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General Characteristics

Capability, Shape, Texture/Pattern, Benefits, Dangers
Flying insect icon
Hairy insect icon
Patterned insect icon

Taxonomic Hierarchy

Species Breakdown
Kingdom: Animalia
  Phylum: Arthropoda
    Class: Insecta
      Order: Lepidoptera
        Family: Saturniidae
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          Genus: Hemileuca
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            Species: maia

Identifying Information

Size, Colors, Features
Scientific Name: Hemileuca maia
Category: Butterfly or Moth
Size (Adult; Length): 50mm to 75mm (1.96" to 2.95")
Colorwheel Graphic Colors: black; white; orange; yellow
Descriptors: large; furry; hairy; heavy; tricolor; blotches; dots; flying

Relative Size Comparison

Typical Size Between 50mm (2.0in) and 75mm (3.0in)
Lo: 50mm
Md: 62.5mm
Hi: 75mm

Territorial Map*

U.S., Canada, and Mexico
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Prince Edward Is.  
* MAP NOTES: The territorial heat map above showcases (in red) the states and territories of North America where the Buck Moth may be found (but is not limited to). This sort of data is useful when attempting to see concentrations of particular species across the continent as well as revealing possible migratory patterns over a species' given lifespan. Some insects are naturally confined by environment, weather, mating habits, food resources and the like while others see widespread expansion across most, or all, of North America. States/Territories shown above are a general indicator of areas inhabited by the Buck Moth. Insects generally go where they please, typically driven by diet, environmental changes, and / or mating habits.
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