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Definite Tussock Moth (Orgyia definita)

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

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Image Credit: Diane, taken in Andover, NH
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Image Credit: Alex -icycatelf- Bowen
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Deep brown bands and shading have a small pop of brightness with the small white crescents on the bottom of the Definite Tussock Moth.

Updated: 08/23/2023; Authored By Staff Writer; Content ©www.InsectIdentification.org
The adult may be a lovely, chocolate brown moth, but the hairy yellow and black caterpillar is an unwelcome visitor. The bright colors of the slender larva make it easy to notice, but those hairs are capable of irritating skin when touched, like many other Tussock caterpillars. Even with gloved hands, the fine hairs can fall out and cause irritation on uncovered arms. Brooms are handy for sweeping them off of a porch. These same hairs are used to create a protective case around the caterpillar while it pupates. Look for and carefully remove cocoons from walls, taking care not to let the hairs get airborne and land on exposed skin or eyes. Take care walking under trees that have them as they may fall down.

Take time to recognize the caterpillar and teach young children to refrain from trying to pet them. Long, bright yellow hairs cover a black body. The head may be yellow or brown. Four tufts of densely-packed hairs form bumps by the head. These bumps may be yellow or orange. Long, black lashes by the head stick out like antennae. Long brown hairs stick out by the rear end, almost like a tail. Very fine, extremely long white hairs protrude from the entire caterpillar and stretch out in every direction, so do not come close to touching the body or these hairs can cause redness and irritation.

The feeding activity on oak trees does not do significant harm to the tree, but younger trees and shrubs may suffer from defoliation by this caterpillar. Other popular trees like maple, ash, elm, willow, and cherry are also suitable hosts. Activity for caterpillars is in springtime.

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General Characteristics

Capability, Shape, Texture/Pattern, Benefits, Dangers
Insect antennae icon
Flying insect icon
Patterned insect icon
Rounded insect body icon
Insect stinger icon

Taxonomic Hierarchy

Species Breakdown
Kingdom: Animalia
  Phylum: Arthropoda
    Class: Insecta
      Order: Lepidoptera
        Family: Erebidae
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          Genus: Orgyia
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            Species: definita

Identifying Information

Size, Colors, Features
Scientific Name: Orgyia definita
Other Name(s): Definite-marked Tussock Moth
Category: Butterfly or Moth
Size (Adult; Length): 15mm to 17mm (0.59" to 0.66")
Colorwheel Graphic Colors: brown; black; white
Descriptors: no wings; antennae comb; white crescent marks; dark brown; rounded wings; brown eyespot; flying; stinging

Relative Size Comparison

Typical Size Between 15mm (0.6in) and 17mm (0.7in)
Lo: 15mm
Md: 16mm
Hi: 17mm

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 Definite Tussock 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 Definite Tussock Moth. Insects generally go where they please, typically driven by diet, environmental changes, and / or mating habits.
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