My life is about living with nature – here you can live it with me!

White-marked Tussock Moth

By Young Naturalist D

My Dad found a caterpillar on a plum tree during the last days of summer (August 27th). It had a red head with black antennas. At first glance they appeared twice as long as they really were because of all the long black hairs on them. The caterpillar also had four white clumps of hair sticking up along the upper part of its back. Starting at the second hairy white clump there was a yellow stripe on either side running down its back. It also had white clumps of hair around every leg. Overall it had a light green body. Dad thought something so strange looking might not be good for his plum tree so he brought it inside and asked us four kids to figure out what it was.

White-Marked Tussock moth
White-marked Tussock Moth photo by Young Naturalist H.

We put it into a clear jar and began to observe. My sister, Young Naturalist H, tried to get a picture of it but the batteries in her camera weren’t working well and we thought we could get a picture the next day after we got new batteries but…. it made a cocoon that night! We did eventually find a picture in an old golden book on insects. You can kind-of get and idea of how strange it was as a caterpillar. (And I might add ugly!) The cocoon was surrounded by webbing that looked like a messy spider had spun. At first it was light green with black spots and was about 2.25 cm long. Over several days it faded and became a milky white with the same one black spot on every section. It was in its cocoon six days before it hatched. Even when it hatched it still looked like it was in its cocoon. Dad thought it looked like neither moth nor butterfly. He said it looked like it hadn’t completely morphed. It was 2 cm long, gray, had 6 legs and was hairy. Four days after it hatched, it started to lay eggs and then soon afterwards it died.

White-Marked Tussock moth

We did a lot of searching on the web and then in books and were finally able to identify it as a White-Marked Tussock moth. The tussock in its name comes from the thick tufts of hair on the back and down the sides of the caterpillar. We found out that this moth is related to the Gypsy moth – so dad was right; it is not necessarily an insect he is delighted to find on his plum trees! We found it interesting that the female does not have wings! Since she doesn’t have wings, she can not fly and therefore lays her eggs on or near her cocoon before dying. When the eggs hatch the young caterpillars dangle a long silk thread that they spin and are then carried around by the wind. This spreads them around to other plants and trees.

LEAF- Sept-10

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Mon@rch’s Editor’s Note – Young Naturalist “D” and Young Naturalist “H”s family has been camping in Allegany and attending my nature walks for as long as I can remember. Although I only get to spend time with their family for one week out of the year . . . . they still are very active in multiple nature activities back in there home state of Michigan. I was very excited to see this email from their mother this afternoon asking if they could do a guest post here on Mon@rch’s Nature Blog.  Great job with the post YN-D and your pictures YN-H . . . . also thanks for sharing what you learned with the world! 

25 responses

  1. Great post! and I learned something new. Thanks
    YN D.

    29 November 2007 at 9:23 pm

  2. This is a fantastic example of learning for the love of knowledge. Bravo!

    29 November 2007 at 9:48 pm

  3. Great job, Young Naturalist D! When I saw the first picture it immediately struck me as looking similar to a gypsy moth caterpillar–thank you for digging deeper for us. Keep up the good work!

    29 November 2007 at 9:55 pm

  4. Tom, I just love the guest appearances on your blog! I can’t wait to see more great work like this…

    29 November 2007 at 10:26 pm

  5. Great post Young Naturalist D, I knew nothing about the Tussock Moth, thanks for teaching me! It’s neat that the female doesn’t have to fly because she has no wings 🙂

    29 November 2007 at 10:29 pm

  6. NatureShutterbug

    Interesting post, and great story about how the moth was identified. What a blog!

    29 November 2007 at 10:48 pm

  7. Very interesting! I think it’s great that you nurture these young naturalists, too. What a wonderful opportunity for them to share what they are learning.

    29 November 2007 at 11:04 pm

  8. You Young Naturalists rock! I never knew there was a White Tussocked Moth. Excellent writing and presentation. Be sure and show this to your teachers.

    29 November 2007 at 11:51 pm

  9. Loved this post. And the pictures were really good. Hope you are having a good evening. ~nita~

    30 November 2007 at 12:02 am

  10. Awesome Tom. Love seeing the posts by your young nature enthusiasts. And I learned something also.

    30 November 2007 at 12:25 am

  11. A very wonderful post! Great job “D!”

    30 November 2007 at 6:58 am

  12. Lisa at Greenbow

    I giggled when I read the title of your post and saw a frog in the picture. Hmmmm said I. Then I read on. Cool. I have had these moths in my garden before too. I have never seen the female. They must not live long after hatching.

    30 November 2007 at 8:38 am

  13. @ Ruth- Thanks and didn’t she do a great job!
    @ Barb – It sure is, thanks!
    @ Lana – The whole family did a wonderful job documenting this caterpillars life cycle! glad she shared it with us!
    @ Jeremy – Thanks and I love the fact that they are doing all the work for me! BTW: Big congrats on your few day old naturalist!! he’s soo cute!! Give him another 10 more years and he can start banding with me and writing articles on dragonflies for me! 🙂
    @ Chicago – to be honest, I knew of the other Tussock Moths but never heard about these guys! Isn’t that neat that the female doesn’t have any wings and how they learned about not having any wings?
    @ Natureshutterbug – Thanks and she did great for sure!
    @ Rondi – Nature is about learning and these guys taught me something new! glad they are sharing with everyone!
    @ Trixie – well, this isn’t the White Tussock Moth (they are all white) but this is the white-marked tussock moth! She did wonderful for sure!
    @ Nita – thanks and they did wonderful for sure! I am so proud of them in doing this!
    @ toni – I do also, these guys helping really keep my blog interesting and gives me a little break from time to time!
    @ Jayne – She sure did go good, thanks!
    @ Lisa – LOL, I questioned to use that picture or not but how couldn’t I?? I just love that picture of her! Now you know what they are!

    30 November 2007 at 8:40 am

  14. What fantastic sleuthing these young naturalists did. Very impressive. Great pics.

    30 November 2007 at 11:22 am

  15. Great post – thanks for sharing “D”! I knew nothing about the White-marked Tussock Moth before today!

    30 November 2007 at 11:43 am

  16. What a great post! I’m really surprised about the fact the female doesn’t have wings. Thanks so much “YN-D” for such an interesting post.

    30 November 2007 at 12:59 pm

  17. Wonder full post YND, It is good to see that you are seeing some rare things also!

    30 November 2007 at 2:47 pm

  18. Interesting post Young Naturalist D! And cool photos Young Naturalist H! What a great experience this was for you both!

    30 November 2007 at 5:21 pm

  19. Bravo, D! Please continue your excellent observation skills and writing. Thanks – I learned something new today.

    30 November 2007 at 9:56 pm

  20. To the guest writer/photographer:

    I really enjoyed the story that you told through words and photos. It makes me happy that you have the curiosity and knowledge to push into the unknown. Last summer I taught a summer camp where the kids didn’t know the names of the most common flower — but they knew EVERY single fact about their favorite music/movie stars. Look what they are missing! Which ones of you will care for the planet?

    1 December 2007 at 9:52 am

  21. Marg

    That was a great informative post-well done on the photos, researching and text. I bet your dad didn’t want to be right about it!

    1 December 2007 at 7:39 pm

  22. @ Robin – She did a wonderful job!
    @ Sherri – It is always great learning about them like this!
    @ Erie – thanks and I found the wingless part very interesting also!
    @ YN-J – It was great they did this for us!
    @ Pam – They both (and their brothers) do great work!
    @ Crayons – didn’t they do great and I two love everyone you said and we need to be more aware! These kids are our future!
    @ Marg – didn’t she do great? Sometimes we wish we are wrong!

    2 December 2007 at 6:55 pm

  23. Creepy looking caterpillar but nice photo of it. I guess a wingless female would have a tough time flying!

    2 December 2007 at 8:48 pm

  24. What an interesting and informative post! I’m glad this catarpillar didn’t get a chance to ruin the tree!

    3 December 2007 at 11:38 am

  25. @ Larry – guess if you don’t need to fly, why put the energy into developing them?
    @ Lisa – thanks and she did do great!

    3 December 2007 at 7:12 pm

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