Not far from where I found yesterday’s pignut hickory tree, I found this hairy caterpillar.


Turns out it isn’t a coincidence to find it there, because this is a hickory tussock moth caterpillar, Lophocampa caryae. The larvae feed on the leaves of hickories, as well as a number of other deciduous trees and some shrubs.

hickory-tussock-side view

You might wonder which end is which.

hickory-tussock--head-onThe head is black, but it is hard to tell unless you get close.

Although the hickory tussock caterpillar looks adorable, it is best not to get close enough to touch one. Contact with the hairs of one of these caterpillars can cause rashes and allergic reactions.

Note that white and black is a warning coloration, meaning stay away, just like yellow and black (wasps), or red and black (black widow spiders and snakes). Think about a black and white skunk, which is definitely well defended!

This caterpillar was on the ground, likely looking for a place to pupate. What does this caterpillar turn into after spinning a cocoon in the leaf litter and spending the winter there?


In the spring it turns into a hickory tussock moth, of course. Talk about spring finery!