I keep finding sycamore tussock moth caterpillars on low stone walls in Manhattan’s Central Park and on the iron fences that surround the lawns of the American Museum of Natural History.
The caterpillars are covered with white hairs. They have four orange tufts and four white tufts on the front end and a pair of white tufts on the rear. They will eventually grow to be relatively unremarkable yellow moths with pale bands on their wings.
Each time I find one of the caterpillars I look up and see either a London plane tree or an American sycamore – their host plants.
American sycamores and London plane trees are easily recognized by bark that peels off to leave puzzle-piece patterns of green, cream, and brown on trunk and branches.
Like many insects, sycamore tussock moth caterpillars eat just a few related plants -- sycamores and plane trees -- and have ended up being named after their food. They eat the soft green leaf tissue and leave behind lacy leaf skeletons made of stems and veins.
Sycamore tussock moths spend the winter in cocoons on host trees. Adult moths emerge in spring. They mate and then lay eggs under leaves and on bark. The eggs soon hatch into a profusion of fancy white caterpillars. By June, there are so many caterpillars that we notice them falling out of the trees and walking along fences.
There is more information about urban moths and butterflies in my book, A Field Guide to Urban Wildlife of North America, which will be published by Stackpole Books in spring 2011.
Dear Julie: I would like to use one of your photos to show family and friends online. One of these attractive critters landed on my shoulder two weeks ago, stunk or spiked me (I retrieved the body to identify it), and I and a significant and painful allergic reaction.ReplyDelete
With your permission and correct information, I will attribute the photo as you direct.
Sorry to hear that! Attribute to J. Feinstein and include a link to my blog so they can read about it.Best, JulieDelete
This is the link: http://www.urbanwildlifeguide.net/2010/07/sycamore-tussock-moth-caterpillars.html?showComment=1380823456524#c8649832742341265734
They sting the heck out of you,, I hate them.ReplyDelete
They do sting, as do many caterpillars that are spiked and tufted with irritating hairs -- it is a good rule of thumb never to touch a fancy looking caterpillar unless you recognize it as benign. The stinging is defensive, not aggressive, but sometimes these fall out of trees and surprise themselves and the person they fall on with bad outcome.Delete
I just saw one of these cute bugs move swiftly across the ground onto a sycamore tree and quickly up the trunk. Luckily I didn't touch it.ReplyDelete
Good looking aren't they? Just keep your hands off 'em…Delete
Hi! I have one of these lovlies on my ceiling. It's hanging, ready to make its cocoon. After rewread about them, it seems it will be there all winter. Any suggestions on moving it? Or should I just leave it? Also, what do the adults eat? Thanks! 🙂ReplyDelete
I'm sorry to say that I don't have any advice to give about this. I've only interacted with them outside. They stay in the cocoon over winter if they are outside. Not sure what will happen at indoor temperatures. Without first hand knowledge, I'm trying to find something useful on the internet, but I'll bet you are doing that too. If I find anything, I will post it here. Good luck.Delete