I found a psychedelic toothbrush

Coquettish, I thought, with that flick of the tail.

I’m not really very fussed about moths. What an awful confession for an entomologist to make. I can get excited about microscopic beetles, and often also about bugs, bees, ants, flies, obscure parasitoid wasps and even false scorpions. But moths? They’re just a bit tame really, aren’t they?

The words of Oliver Wendell Holmes ring very true in my ear: “Lepidoptera and Neuroptera for little folks; Coleoptera for men, Sir!”

Perhaps it’s because I never went through a moth phase on my early entomological journey. I went more or less straight from butterfly collecting to beetles.

However, I do like caterpillars. As they’re wingless perhaps I think of them as honorary creepy-crawlies. And this is one of my favourites — the psychedelic toothbrush that is the caterpillar of the pale tussock moth, Calliteara pudibunda. With its all-along lilac side bristles, its delicate yellow tail blush and the extraordinary black velvet intersegmental flashes, it presents itself a bizarre creature.

This one had chosen a peculiar resting place; it was tucked deep inside the chiseled hole made by a woodpecker in a willow tree on the banks of the River Stour, near Sandwich. Perhaps it reasoned that having dug there once and moved on, the bird was unlikely to return. Something a bit like lightning not striking the same place twice? I prodded it with a grass stem and it shuffled out for a picture before heading further up the trunk.

It is definitely one of my favourite caterpillars. What a pity it turns into such a dull-looking moth.

3 responses to “I found a psychedelic toothbrush

  1. Dear Bugman. What were you doing deep inside the chiseled hole made by a woodpecker in a willow tree on the banks of the River Stour, near Sandwich?



  2. Richard Jones

    Hi Kate
    It wasn’t a nest hole, although there was one further up the same tree. It was an exploratory feeding hole — a conical excavation about 5 cm across and about the same deep. The caterpillar was tucked into the far recess. I learned long ago that if you find a hole in a tree, look inside; there’s bound to be something interesting hiding in there.

  3. Moths are best with a blacklight and a bottle of wine, especially on a cloudy night with no stars to gaze. Microscopic beetles aren’t bad for diurnal perving with a microscope, but moths own the night.

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