Pale Tussock Moth

The caterpillar of the Pale Tussock Moth (Calliteara pudibunda) is large and very visible;

Pale Tussock Moth Caterpillar (3)

which is just as well.  Otherwise, I would have trundled over this one with the ride-on mower.

Pale Tussock Moth Caterpillar (1)

It seemed out of place somehow and far too exotic for a Sussex garden.

Pale Tussock Moth Caterpillar (6)

The caterpillars feed on a range of tree leaves including elm, birch, hazel, lime and oak.  And hops … which explains (a bit) its colloquial name of ‘hop dogs.’  Here on the meadow, it was probably chomping on my fruit tree leaves – also part of its diet.

Pale Tussock Moth Caterpillar (5)

I didn’t pick it up as those hairs looked defensive and sure enough, when I got home, I read that they can cause irritation* and a nasty rash.

Pale Tussock Moth Caterpillar (2)

It is always interesting to come across a new creature at the Priory – especially one so colourful.  And the adult Pale Tussock Moth is quite ridiculously cute – for a moth.  In fact, it is probably the cutest moth you’ve ever seen.  Don’t believe me?  Well, have a look – there’s a photo of one here.

Told you.


*postscript October 2017.

I’ve received the following email from a reader.  The hairs on a Pale Tussock Moth Caterpillar are more than just an irritant:

“… In our case, (the caterpillar) wasn’t highly visible as it was on a tennis ball which I picked up whilst playing club tennis under flood lights. Ball and caterpillar stuffed into joggers whilst serving. Searing pain and resultant welts fully visible 48hrs later.

Day 3 and the welts still look angry and itch.

I subsequently got hit from on high by an acorn …”

So don’t pick up a Pale Tussock Moth Caterpillar without gloves and definitely don’t stick one down your pants.

Watch out for falling acorns too.

37 thoughts on “Pale Tussock Moth

  1. Great photos… what a dramatic creature! Forewarned is fore-armed…or something.. something so endearing about the person putting one in a pocket inadvertently.. with itchy results : / Glad you are recycling some posts… always a pleasure to view your stellar photos (bit jealous), and share in your assorted rambles and ruminations. x

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Fascinating! And wonderful pictures too. I loved the story from the tennis player, managed to do that myself with a ball covered in ants a few weeks ago. Eeek!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ouch. But in comparison to the tennis player you got of lightly. I once sat on a tussock in Germany to change into cycling shorts (it’s a long story) only to discover I’d sat on a wood-ant nest. They really, really don’t like to be sat on. Double eeek. D


  3. Pingback: Insects You Wont Believe Exist - Top Viral Posts

  4. I’ve just found one of these beauties up in a leaf on my young apple tree 😀 It is pretty, however I find moths slightly freaky and they tend to be met with that strange involuntary noise made when something (like a moth) flies too close to your hair/ear…..But this guy does like almost cute……..almost!
    I still prefer the family of robins that have moved into the tress in my back garden 🙂


    • Hi Lauren, you wouldn’t believe how much traffic this post still gets two years after I first posted it. There must be an awful lot of people out there are seeing PTM caterpillars. I know the involuntary noise thing well and do it myself but usually when something bigger breaks cover nearby – normally a pheasant or moorhen. Doesn’t half make me jump! Dave


  5. I have found one on the ground today where I was clearing. I have put him behind some rocks but I’m not sure where is best. I have trees, is he better at the foot of one of those, do they hide in bark or something. I have lots of frogs, I fear he’ll be a snack behind those rocks.


    • Hi Elly, I’m sure he’ll will be fine where you put him and I don’t think that frogs would be interested in eating a caterpillar so covered in thick protective hairs. (But I’m no expert)! Dave


      • is it possible to find one of these caterpillars in white rather than yellow ? i have just found a white one that looks very much like this underneath a rhubarb leaf


        • Hi Hayley, hmm – I’m not sure. I’ve had a quick look on-line to check. If it had a red tail spike it probably was a pale tussock moth caterpillar. But the site I looked at said the colour ranged from green to yellow with no mention of white. If you took a photo and send it to me I could double check for you? Dave


  6. I believed you – but checked anyway, and was glad I did, what a ridiculous looking (but very cute) critter. Now wonder the caterpillar is such a show-off too, looks so strokeable. Glad you didn’t mow it. Fabulous photos.


  7. Fabulous photos. Funnily enough I found one of these in our vegetable garden on Sunday, and intended to look it up later. Needless to say I had completely forgotten of its existence until seeing your pictures! I’m glad one of us is paying attention 😉 thanks for the id. The moth is indeed going to be very cute, though would still give me a shock to meet on a dark night…


  8. Oh, wonderful photos, Dave. It’s nice to see the caterpillar from different angles. I wonder if those dew drops will tickle once they work their way down to the little beastie’s skin. The moth almost looks like something you’d want to scratch behind the ears. Almost.


    • If you were to scratch that caterpillar behind its ‘ears’ you’d regret it, Stacy. I’ve become quite a lover of moths – less showy than butterflies but many of them every bit as beautiful. And cute. D


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