Tag Archives: Calliteara pudibunda

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.