Pale Tussock Moth (Calliteara pudibunda) – adult

Male Pale Tussock moth on bark of tree.
Male Pale Tussock moth on bark of tree – photo Steve Ogden

The Pale Tussock moth is a common species throughout much of the southern half of England, becoming scarcer in northern regions.

The species is also recorded in Northern Ireland and throughout much of continental Europe.

Combed antennae of male Pale Tussock moth photo Steve Ogden.
Combed antennae of male Pale Tussock moth – photo Steve Ogden

They are found in a wide variety of habitats including gardens, woodlands and along countryside hedgerows.

The moths are nocturnal and fly in a single generation from late spring to early summer when they are attracted to light.

The females have an approximate forewing length of 30mm and are larger and paler than the males.

Males have a wing length of up to 22mm and have comb-like antennae.

When settled the moths extend their hairy front legs out in front.

Pale Tussock moth in characteristic resting posture on a tree trunk © 2006 Steve Ogden
Pale Tussock moth in characteristic resting posture on a tree trunk – photo Steve Ogden
Pale Tussock (Calliteara pudibunda) moth © 2008 Steve Ogden
Pale Tussock (Calliteara pudibunda) moth – photo Steve Ogden

Caterpillar of the Pale Tussock Moth (Calliteara pudibunda)

Pale Tussock (Calliteara pudibunda) fully grown caterpillar. Photo Steve Ogden.
Pale Tussock (Calliteara pudibunda) fully grown caterpillar. Photo Steve Ogden.

The caterpillars are between 40-45mm in length and feed on a wide variety of deciduous trees as well as many other plants such as bramble and hops.

They were once commonly found on hops growing in the south east of England where the pickers referred to them as Hop Dogs. The hairs of the caterpillars were reputed to have caused quite severe allergic skin reactions among the pickers.

Another common species of caterpillar with hairy dorsal tussocks that may also be found in similar habitat is the Vapourer Moth caterpillar.

The caterpillar of the Dark Tussock moth has a more localised distribution and is mostly found on more open moorland and heathland habitat.

Other caterpillars are featured in the moth Caterpillar galleries , the Butterfly caterpillar galleries and other hairy caterpillars.

Green form of Pale Tussock caterpillar - photo © 2006 Steve Ogden
Green form of Pale Tussock caterpillar – photo © 2006 Steve Ogden

The body is commonly a greeny yellow but may vary depending on the colour of the hairs.

The colour of the hairs is very variable with white, yellowy white, brown, reddy brown, pink and even mauve specimens recorded as featured below.

Bold black marks are revealed between the dorsal tufts when the body is stretched.

The single tail tuft is most frequently a browny pink but may reflect the colour of the caterpillar.

Although the tail tuft is often a helpful identification feature it may be absent from some specimens.

The four, tussocky, dorsal tufts are most frequently a contrasting white, brown or yellow but may also reflect the colour of the other hairs.

The caterpillars are most commonly come across in late August and September when they’re fully grown and wandering in search of somewhere to pupate.

Other coloured forms of Pale Tussock caterpillars

Featured below are more sightings showing the wide variety of different coloured forms of Pale Tussock caterpillars from the British Isles.

Pink form of Pale Tussock caterpillar (Calliteara pudibunda)  - photo Alan Hodgson
Pink form of Pale Tussock caterpillar (Calliteara pudibunda) – photo Alan Hodgson
Mauve coloured form of Pale Tussock caterpillar on Red Maple tree.
Mauve coloured form of Pale Tussock caterpillar on Red Maple tree in Oxfordshire – photo Gerry Reed
Brown form of Pale Tussock caterpillar-photo Gordon de la Mare
Brown form of Pale Tussock caterpillar-photo Gordon de la Mare
Brown form of Pale Tussock caterpillar with white dorsal tufts.
Brown form of Pale Tussock caterpillar with white dorsal tufts – photo Martyn Williams
White form of Pale Tussock caterpillar.
White form of Pale Tussock caterpillar – photo Richard Knight
White form of Pale Tussock caterpillar
White form of Pale Tussock caterpillar – photo Adrian Roberts
Pinky red form of Pale Tussock caterpillar on Rambling Rector rose.
Pinky red form of Pale Tussock caterpillar on Rambling Rector rose – photo Gordon Reid
Pink form of Pale Tussock caterpillar.
Pink form of Pale Tussock caterpillar photo Diane Crossman
Yellow form of Pale Tussock caterpillar - photo Tiffany Brisy O'Rorke
Yellow form of Pale Tussock caterpillar – photo Tiffany Brisy O’Rorke
Red form of Pale Tussock caterpillar.
Red form of Pale Tussock caterpillar – photo Lynn Stockdale
White form of Pale Tussock caterpillar
White form of Pale Tussock caterpillar photo Patricia Dean

Other development stages (instars) of Pale Tussock caterpillars

Pale Tussock (Calliteara pudibunda) 3mm newly emerged larva. Photo Claire Ogden.
Pale Tussock (Calliteara pudibunda) 3mm newly emerged larva. Photo Claire Ogden.
Pale Tussock (Calliteara pudibunda) 4mm second instar. Photo Steve Ogden.
Pale Tussock (Calliteara pudibunda) 4mm second instar. Photo Steve Ogden.
Pale Tussock (Calliteara pudibunda) 6mm larva. Photo Steve Ogden.
Pale Tussock (Calliteara pudibunda) 6mm larva. Photo Steve Ogden.
Pale Tussock (Calliteara pudibunda) moth larva 7mm  recently moulted. Photo Steve Ogden.
Pale Tussock (Calliteara pudibunda) 7mm larva. Photo Steve Ogden.
Pale Tussock (Calliteara pudibunda) 10mm larva. Photo Steve Ogden.
Pale Tussock (Calliteara pudibunda) 10mm larva. Photo Steve Ogden.
Pale Tussock (Calliteara pudibunda) larva fourth instar. Photo Steve Ogden.
Pale Tussock (Calliteara pudibunda) larva fourth instar. Photo Steve Ogden.
Pale Tussock (Calliteara pudibunda) 20mm larva. Photo Steve Ogden.
Pale Tussock (Calliteara pudibunda) 20mm larva. Photo Steve Ogden.
Pale Tussock (Calliteara pudibunda) 38mm larva © 2013 Steve Ogden
Pale Tussock (Calliteara pudibunda) 38mm larva © 2013 Steve Ogden
Pale Tussock (Calliteara pudibunda) 42mm larva © 2009 Steve Ogden
Pale Tussock (Calliteara pudibunda) 42mm larva © 2009 Steve Ogden
Pale Tussock (Calliteara pudibunda) caterpillar lacking tail tuft. Photo Steve Ogden.
Pale Tussock (Calliteara pudibunda) caterpillar lacking tail tuft. Photo Steve Ogden.

Pupating Pale Tussock caterpillar

Pale Tussock (Calliteara pudibunda) cocoon. Photo Steve Ogden.
Pale Tussock (Calliteara pudibunda) cocoon. Photo Steve Ogden.

The caterpillars pupate in leaf litter and overwinter as a cocoon.

The Pale Tussock caterpillar is easily reared but must be overwintered as a pupa.

More information is available on How to rear caterpillars.

Recommended reference books

  • The Colour Identification Guide to Caterpillars of the British Isles – Jim Porter.
  • Field Guide to the Moths of Great Britain and Ireland – Waring, Townsend and Lewington.
  • Moths of the British Isles – Bernard Skinnner.
  • Provisional Atlas of UK’s Larger Moths – Randle, Fox and Parsons.