Friday, September 14, 2012

Spotted Tussock Caterpillars

Spotted Tussock caterpillar (Lophocampa maculata)
Spotted Tussock caterpillar
I'm seeing lots of these guys lately. They are orange and black, and look a lot like the Woolly Bear caterpillars, but those long white lashes tell us this is the latter stage of a Spotted Tussock caterpillar (Lophocampa maculata). The adult moths fly in May, June and July. Their eggs hatch into furry caterpillars and, by September, most of them are preparing for winter by creating a cocoon.

Spotted Tussock cocoon (Lophocampa maculata)
Spotted Tussock cocoon
The caterpillar slowly, methodically builds a cocoon around itself using silk from a gland just below its mouth.  It sticks the fresh silk to the older silk strands, pausing now and then to pluck its own hair to add to its creation. Soon all you can see is a papery-white cocoon with orange and black fuzz woven in.

Once hidden inside the cocoon overcoat, the nearly-hairless caterpillar will transform into a hard-skinned pupae and then lie dormant for the winter. In the spring, an adult moth will emerge from the pupae, cut its way through the silk coat, and fly off into the May sunshine.

Spotted Tussock caterpillar presses an orange hair into its unfinished, silken cocoon