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Cattail Caterpillar Moth (Acronicta insularis)

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

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Image Credit: Kathleen P. from Schuyler Lake, NY
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The adult moth looks innocent, but its intimidating caterpillar seems anything but.

Updated: 01/26/2021; Authored By Staff Writer; Content ©www.InsectIdentification.org
The Cattail Caterpillar Moth is brown, but very pale. Many individuals are without any markings and appear plain. Others have dark brown color between the wing?s light veins. A creamy white or ivory thorax is covered in plush hairs giving this moth a soft appearance. Its caterpillar is quite different.

While the adult seems all downy and ethereal, the caterpillar is prickly and fiery. It is black with bright orange coloring on the sides of the body. It is covered in orange, white, and black spiky hairs. Deep red tones may develop giving the larva more alarming colors that can deter predators. Despite the menacing appearance, this caterpillar has been handled without issues. It feeds on sedges and cattails, smartweed, poplar and willow trees, and grasses. Look for it and the moth near marshes and damp areas where host plants grow.

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


Taxonomic Hierarchy
Species Breakdown
Kingdom: Animalia
  Phylum: Arthropoda
    Class: Insecta
      Order: Lepidoptera
        Family: Noctuidae
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          Genus: Acronicta
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            Species: insularis
Identifying Information
Size, Colors, Features
Scientific Name: Acronicta insularis
Other Name(s): Henry's Marsh Moth
Category: Butterfly or Moth
Size (Adult; Length): 20mm to 22mm (0.78" to 0.86")
Colorwheel Graphic Colors: brown; tan
Descriptors: soft; plain brown; plain tan; hairy; plush; flying; veins; pale brown; no marks

Relative Size Comparison
Typical Size Between 20mm (0.8in) and 22mm (0.9in)
Lo: 20mm
Md: 21mm
Hi: 22mm
Territorial Map*
U.S., Canada, and Mexico
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Territory map graphic of the country of Mexico
Contiguous United States shape map layer graphic
Prince Edward Is.  
* MAP NOTES: The territorial heat map above showcases (in red) the states and territories of North America where the Cattail Caterpillar 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 Cattail Caterpillar Moth. Insects generally go where they please, typically driven by diet, environmental changes, and / or mating habits.


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