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Unicorn Caterpillar Moth (Schizura unicornis)

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

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The single horn growing on the caterpillar of this moth is followed by a boxy rear end.

Updated: 01/06/2022; Authored By Staff Writer; Content ©www.InsectIdentification.org
The brown and gray adult moth does not have a unicorn?s horn, but its larva grows a long, pointy ?horn? from the top of its body. The plump caterpillar has a large, brown head and a brown body. The area by the head may be green depending on how mature it is. The horn extends almost directly upward. Smaller bumps grow by the rear end where a white ?V?-shaped mark may be present. These bumps exaggerate into a sharp angle when the caterpillar bends its body. The effect leaves the whole larva looking somewhat like a curled, dried leaf. Corrosive formic acid can squirt out of the hump if the caterpillar is under threat. This caterpillar feeds on a variety of deciduous trees like aspen, birch, oak, maple, hickory, and willow.

The adult moth lacks unicorn features, but it has a myriad of subtle hues overlaying its generally earthy tones. If one looks hard enough, light green and purple can be seen, and the bottom of the forewings may have a creamy white area bordered by thin, scalloped lines. The moth can be found in almost all parts of the continent save the coldest areas. It is most active during the warmest months of the summer.©InsectIdentification.org

Known Diet of the Unicorn-Caterpillar-Moth

apple; alder; birch; elm; hawthorn; hickory; willow
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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: Notodontidae
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          Genus: Schizura
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            Species: unicornis

Identifying Information

Size, Colors, Features
Scientific Name: Schizura unicornis
Other Name(s): Variegated Prominent Moth; Unicorn Prominent Moth
Category: Butterfly or Moth
Size (Adult; Length): 18mm to 25mm (0.70" to 0.98")
Colorwheel Graphic Colors: brown; gray
Descriptors: pale green; violet; purple; hairy thorax; white bottom; multicolored; flying

Relative Size Comparison

Typical Size Between 18mm (0.7in) and 25mm (1.0in)
Lo: 18mm
Md: 21.5mm
Hi: 25mm

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

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