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Sycamore Tussock Moth (Halysidota harrisii)

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

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The Sycamore Tussock Moth lives on and eats off of sycamore trees, sometimes to the point of destroying them.

Updated: 01/17/2022; Authored By Staff Writer; Content ©www.InsectIdentification.org
Sycamore Tussock Moths can be found on sycamore trees and London plane trees. They are pale brown with alternating bands of tan and brown across the forewings. The hairy thorax has lines of white, blue, and yellow hairs running down the center. This species looks identical to the Banded Tussock Moth of the same genus, and only an anatomical inspection can really differentiate the two. Because it is impossible to check this via a photograph, on this website, the photos attributed to this moth are also placed on the Banded Tussock Moth.

Observers are more likely to find the young caterpillars on the host trees than adult moths. Often, they dangle from a branch by a fine silk strand, almost dancing their way to the ground. Sycamore Tussock Moth caterpillars grow to be about 25-35mm long. They are covered in white hairs and have orange heads. Four orange tufts (called pencils) of long bristles extend upward behind the head. Four more white pencils of long bristles are next to them. Two white pencils of long hairs extend out by the rear end. Though they are not reported to sting, this caterpillar has caused irritation on human skin, so handling them is not advised. Use a stick or paper to remove them from areas where they are not wanted. There are two to three generations each year.

Females lay fertilized eggs on the tree's bark or branches. The emerging caterpillars proceed to eat away at the leaves and soft plant tissue. In large numbers, annual substantial damage to a tree can kill it over time. After 30-40 days, the caterpillars form cocoons and emerge as adults about two weeks later. An exception to that timeline is the generation of caterpillars pupating just before winter comes. These caterpillars remain in their cocoons all season long, protecting them from the elements. They emerge as flying adults the next spring and parent the first generation of the new year.©InsectIdentification.org

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General Characteristics

Capability, Shape, Texture/Pattern, Benefits, Dangers
Flying insect icon
Hairy insect icon
Patterned insect icon
Spiny / Spiky insect icon
Striped or banded insect icon

Taxonomic Hierarchy

Species Breakdown
Kingdom: Animalia
  Phylum: Arthropoda
    Class: Insecta
      Order: Lepidoptera
        Family: Erebidae
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          Genus: Halysidota
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            Species: harrisii

Identifying Information

Size, Colors, Features
Scientific Name: Halysidota harrisii
Category: Butterfly or Moth
Size (Adult; Length): 25mm to 50mm (0.98" to 1.96")
Colorwheel Graphic Colors: ivory; yellow; black; brown; orange
Descriptors: spotted; flying; spiky; hairy; furry; striped; spotted; band; hanging; dropping; dancing

Relative Size Comparison

Typical Size Between 25mm (1.0in) and 50mm (2.0in)
Lo: 25mm
Md: 37.5mm
Hi: 50mm

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