The Lackey caterpillar and Moth, Malacosoma neustria

The Lackey moth  (Malacosoma neustria) © 2014 Steve OgdenMale Lackey moth (Malacosoma neustria) © 2014 Steve Ogden

Head of Lackey moth caterpillar © 2006 Steve Ogden
The Lackey Moth is a common species in the southern half of England roughly from below a line drawn from the Wash to the River Severn estuary and along the south and west coasts of Wales.

They inhabit open and wooded countryside with a variety of deciduous trees.

In south west Cornwall the species is frequently found in coastal regions where the silk webs of the Lackey caterpillars are often seen in low lying blackthorn and hawthorn hedges.

Latest sightings from Cornwall and other around the world

The Lackey Moth identification

Both male and female Lackey moths have yellowy/orange forewings which can vary in shade and crossed by two darker lines.

The larger female has a wingspan of over 30 mm and the smaller male Lackey a wing span of about 25 mm.

The male lackey has feathered antennae.

The Lackey eggs and hatching caterpillars (Malacosoma neustria) © 2016 Claire Ogden

The Lackey Moth Life Cycle

The adult moths fly in a single generation from late June to end of August and are attracted to light.

The females lay a ‘band’ of eggs around twigs of the larval food plant and over winter before hatching in early April.

The caterpillars live gregariously in a silk spun web and grow rapidly.

Other hairy caterpillars

Other caterpillars can be seen in the caterpillar galleries

Other help with caterpillar identification

Lackey caterpillar web in willow tree © 2011 Steve OgdenLackey moth caterpillar web in Blackthorn tree © 2011 Steve Ogden

Lackey caterpillar silk web  © 2014 Steve OgdenLackey moth caterpillars in web © 2014 Steve Ogden

The Lackey caterpillar and webs

The webs of Lackey caterpillars are a common site amongst many low growing deciduous trees such as blackthorn, hawthorn and apple.

Over a hundred caterpillars may be seen in a single web and if undisturbed may be seen sitting on the outside during the day.

Even when recently emerged the caterpillars are distinctively marked having a range of blue, orange and pale stripes and long brown hairs.

The caterpillars grow rapidly reaching a length of 55mm by June.

Lackey moth caterpillars in web © 2014 Steve OgdenLackey caterpillar dorsal view © 2012 Steve Ogden

When fully grown they disperse to find a suitable place low down amongst plants to spin a cocoon and pupate.

The adult moths emerge within a month.

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.

Lackey  caterpillar fully grown basking on bracken © 2014 Steve OgdenThe Lackey moth cocoon (Malacosoma neustria) © 2014 Steve Ogden