Cool Cats

The trees in front of the building I work in have been crawling with life. And mostly one kind of life- the caterpillars of the fir tussock moth, Orgyia detrita. These colorful larvae are all over the place- in and around trees, walking along pavement, on the sides of buildings, etc. Interestingly, it appears that earlier instars stick to the host plant they emerged on whereas later ones, like the one photographed below, start to be a bit more adventurous.

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The fir tussock moth caterpillar (Orgyia detrita)

As I tend to post my photos to Facebook as well as here, I have become the go-to guy for questions regarding all things small and chitinous. The last wave of related questions I received was in the fall about leaf-footed bugs (Acanthocephala declivis) but now I am hearing all kinds of stories about these hairy caterpillars with red heads. One person even told me that an aggregation of them took over her bike.

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This dark coloration and setal pattern is only fully developed in the latest instars

Despite the abundance of larvae this spring, I don’t remember encountering any adult Orgyia moths last year. Hopefully I will have the chance to find an adult, as I am especially hopeful to find an adult female. This is because the females of this group have become secondarily wingless, giving them an odd isopod-like look that is very unusual. The pupal stage lasts about two weeks, so I am hoping to encounter some odd ladies in the near future.

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The buck moth caterpillar (Hemileuca maia)

Lastly, since I could squeeze it in tangentially, I also had the chance to encounter the famed buck moth caterpillar (Hemileuca maia) recently as well, although just a single specimen in this case. Much like the io moth caterpillar (Automeris io), which I photographed last year, this little guy will turn into a spectacular saturniid!

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The natural defense for buck moth caterpillars is to roll into a ball and let the spines do the work

 

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