Banded Tussock Moth Caterpillar: All You Need to Know in a Nutshell

The banded tussock moth caterpillar is a fascinating creature that can be found in various parts of North America. Known for its distinctive appearance, this caterpillar displays a combination of bold colors and intricate patterns, making it easily identifiable in the wild.

Feeding primarily on the leaves of deciduous trees, such as oaks and hickories, these caterpillars play an important role in the ecosystem. As they grow and develop, banded tussock moths face various predators, like birds and bats, which help maintain a natural balance in the environment. To better understand these unique creatures, let’s dive into some key aspects of their life cycle and behaviors:

  • Life cycle: Banded tussock moths have one generation per year, with adult moths flying during May-June and caterpillars present from July-September. Eggs are laid in clusters on the underside of leaves, where they hatch and begin feeding.
  • Appearance: These caterpillars exhibit a variety of colors, such as orange spots on dark bodies or lighter-bodied forms resembling whitemarked tussock moths.
  • Feeding habits: Young larvae feed together in groups, while older caterpillars often feed individually or in small clusters. Their dietary preferences contribute to their growth and eventual transformation into moths.

Banded Tussock Moth Caterpillar Overview

Appearance

The Halysidota tessellaris, commonly known as the Banded Tussock Moth Caterpillar, is known for its distinct appearance. These caterpillars often have a hairy body with predominantly yellow or white color patterns. Some features of the banded tussock caterpillar include:

  • Black and yellow paired tufts on their backs
  • Orange spots on dark-bodied larvae

Habitat

The banded tussock moth caterpillar is typically found in wooded areas, where it feeds on leaves of various deciduous trees, such as:

  • Oak
  • Elm
  • Hickory
  • Ash

Range

As a native species in North America, banded tussock moth caterpillars are predominantly found in the Eastern United States. This caterpillar is part of the Halysidota genus which belongs to the larger family Erebidae under the Lepidoptera order.

Life Cycle and Growth

Eggs

The life cycle of a banded tussock moth begins with the eggs. Female moths lay their eggs in clusters on the underside of leaves. These eggs hatch in spring, giving rise to the next generation of caterpillars.

  • Egg clusters found on underside of leaves
  • Hatching occurs in spring

Larvae

Banded tussock moth caterpillars pass through several growth stages, known as instars, as they develop. They feed on leaves and can cause significant damage to plants. In summer or early fall, they complete the larval stage and prepare to pupate.

  • Multiple instars
  • Feed on leaves
  • Damage to plants

Pupa

The pupal stage occurs when the caterpillar forms a cocoon and undergoes transformation into an adult moth. This process usually takes place in a protected location. Pupation can last for several weeks, depending on environmental factors.

  • Cocoon: Protective covering for pupa
  • Transformation into adult moth
  • Pupal duration varies

Adult Moth

Once the moths have completed their transformation, they emerge from their cocoons and take flight. Adult moths have distinctive markings on their wings, which allow them to blend in with their environment. Mating occurs shortly after emergence, starting the life cycle anew.

  • Distinctive wing markings
  • Mating: Spring, summer, or fall
Stage Duration Timing
Eggs Days or weeks Spring
Larvae Weeks to months Spring – Summer
Pupa Weeks Late Summer
Adult Moth Weeks to months Spring – Fall

Diet and Host Plants

Deciduous Trees

Banded tussock moth caterpillars primarily feed on deciduous trees. These caterpillars can be found on a variety of tree species, including:

  • Oak
  • Birch
  • Willow
  • Alder
  • Elm

Deciduous forests provide an ideal habitat for banded tussock moth caterpillars, as these trees are their primary host plants.

Shrubs

In addition to deciduous trees, banded tussock moth caterpillars also feed on certain shrubs such as ashes and sycamore. The caterpillars can adapt to diverse forest environments, allowing them to thrive in various ecosystems.

Host Plant Typical Habitat Caterpillar Species
Oak Deciduous forests Banded Tussock Moth
Birch Deciduous forests Banded Tussock Moth
Willow Deciduous forests, wetlands Banded Tussock Moth
Alder Deciduous forests, wetlands Banded Tussock Moth
Elm Deciduous forests Banded Tussock Moth
Ashes Mixed forests Banded Tussock Moth, Sycamore Tussock Moth
Sycamore Mixed forests Sycamore Tussock Moth

As seen in the table above, banded tussock moth caterpillars are adaptable to diverse environments and can feed on various types of host plants.

Identifying Features

Coloration

Banded tussock moth caterpillars have a variety of colors on their bodies. They can be black, white, brown, or even shades of blue. Some features to look out for include:

  • White, black, and brown body colors
  • Shades of blue on their wings or thorax
  • Red head or thorax sections in some species

Size and Wingspan

These caterpillars are typically small in size, ranging from 1 to 1.5 inches in length. Their wingspan varies depending on the species, but some common measurements include:

  • White-marked tussock moth: 1.5 – 2 inches
  • Pale tiger moth: 2 – 3 inches

Tufts of Hair and Bristles

A key feature of banded tussock moth caterpillars is their tufts of hair and bristles, also known as “tussocks.” These can be present in various parts of their body, including:

  • Tufts of hair on the head, thorax or abdomen
  • Bristles or spines protruding from their body

Shape and Markings

Banded tussock moth caterpillars often have distinct shapes and markings which can aid in identification. Some examples of these features include:

  • Wavy or lined patterns on their wings
  • The presence of butterfly-like markings or spots
  • Markings that resemble a pale tiger moth or white-marked tussock moth

Comparison Table:

Feature White-marked Tussock Moth Pale Tiger Moth
Wingspan 1.5 – 2 inches 2 – 3 inches
Coloration Black, white, brown Black, white, brown, blue
Tufts of Hair Present Absent
Bristles Present Present
Wavy/ Lined Markings Present Present

Remember that these unique features can help identify banded tussock moth caterpillars among other species, and understanding their traits can provide valuable information about their behavior, habitat, and potential predators.

Defoliation and Impact on Trees

Signs of Infestation

The presence of banded tussock moth caterpillars can lead to defoliation in their habitat, affecting the foliage of trees. Signs of infestation include:

  • Chewed leaves with irregular holes
  • Partial or complete defoliation
  • Caterpillars crawling on tree trunks or branches

Prevention and Control

Preventing and controlling infestations of banded tussock moth caterpillars involve a few strategies:

  • Regularly inspect trees for signs of caterpillars
  • Remove egg masses found on the underside of leaves
  • Introduce natural predators, such as birds and parasitic wasps

Comparison of Control Methods:

Control Method Pros Cons
Tree Inspection Non-invasive, early detection Time-consuming, requires regular monitoring
Removing Egg Masses Prevents future infestations May not be effective if eggs already hatched
Introducing Predators Organic, long-term solution May not be sufficient if infestation is too large

Human Interaction and Allergies

Skin Reactions

The banded tussock moth caterpillar, found in the United States, belongs to the Animalia kingdom, Arthropoda phylum, and Insecta class. Contact with this caterpillar can cause skin reactions in sensitive or allergic individuals. Reactions may range from mild rashes to severe itching and swelling. For example, some people may experience a rash within minutes of touching the caterpillar, while others may have no reaction at all.

Safety Precautions

To avoid skin reactions from the banded tussock moth caterpillar, follow these safety precautions:

  • Wear protective clothing when handling or working near these caterpillars. Long sleeves, gloves, and pants can minimize skin exposure.
  • Do not touch the caterpillar with bare hands or allow it to crawl on you.
  • Be aware of their habitats in late spring and early summer, when the caterpillars are most active.
Caterpillar Animalia Arthropoda Insecta United States
Banded Tussock Moth

It is important to remember that not all caterpillar encounters lead to skin reactions. However, exercising caution around these insects, especially if you know you are sensitive or allergic to them, can help prevent unpleasant experiences.

Conservation Status and Future Impact

Ecological Importance

The banded tussock moth caterpillar, scientifically known as Halysidota tessellaris, belongs to the Lepidoptera order, which also includes butterflies. This species is native to Canada and various states in the US, playing a vital role in the ecosystem as food for various bird species.

During their life cycle, they move through different developmental stages, such as egg, caterpillar (larva), pupa, and adult moth. Emerging in the summer months and flying in the autumn, their presence benefits other insects and plants within their range.

Threats to the Species

While the banded tussock moth caterpillar is not currently facing significant threats, changes in their habitat and climate could jeopardize their populations in the future. Some potential concerns include:

  • Habitat loss from human development
  • Climate change affecting their seasonal patterns
  • Pesticide exposure
Concern Impact Example
Habitat loss Decreased population size Deforestation, urbanization
Climate change Shift in life cycle Unusual temperatures affecting larval development
Pesticide exposure Health effects Loss of beneficial insects in their ecosystem

Understanding these threats may help raise awareness and implement conservation efforts to preserve the banded tussock moth caterpillar and its crucial role in the ecosystem.

Reader Emails

Over the years, our website, whatsthatbug.com has received hundreds of letters and some interesting images asking us about these insects. Scroll down to have a look at some of them.

Letter 1 – Banded Tussock Moth Caterpillar

 

What is this caterpillar?
What is this? We found him on our picnic table last weekend at Burr Oak State Park near Nelsonville, Ohio. It is in the SE part of the state in the foothills of the Appalachian mountains (if that helps). We didn’t touch it becuase Mom read “stinging caterpillars” are fuzzy ones. Please help! Thanks!!!
Kyra and Ella Walker

Hi Kyra and Ella,
This is one of the Tussock Moth Caterpillars in the genus Halysidota. It is most likely the Banded Tussock Moth Caterpillar, Halysidota tessellaris. While it is true that caterpillars with hairs and spines are sometimes stinging species, this is not one of those.

Letter 2 – Banded Tussock Moth Caterpillar

 

Subject: Caterpillar identification
Location: Athens, GA
July 3, 2014 6:12 pm
Caterpillars are difficult for me to identify, even with a key. This one was found in a wooded subdivision in Northeast, GA.. (Athens area) A river with creek tributaries is close by. They seem to be more numerous this year. My friends are asking me, but I am clueless. I have answered them, “moth”.
Signature: Another Ed in Athens

Banded Tussock Moth Caterpillar
Banded Tussock Moth Caterpillar

Dear Ed,
One of the best clues for identifying caterpillars is knowing the plant upon which it was feeding.  We believe this is a Banded Tussock Moth Caterpillar or Pale Tussock Moth Caterpillar,
Halysidota tessellaris, and you can compare your image to those posted on BugGuide

Letter 3 – Banded Tussock Moth Caterpillar, we believe

 

Subject: White Caterpillar NO black spots
Location: Lake Jordan, North Carolina – mid- October
October 20, 2013 2:33 pm
Hi Bugman,
My husband and I were hiking around Jordan Lake near Raleigh, North Carolina this fine mid-October afternoon and this little guy hitched a ride on his jeans. I’ve been trying to identify him but I cannot find a picture online that doesn’t have black spots and does have black feathery things! He didn’t have black spots on his back so I don’t think he’s a Hickory Tussock, but we’d love to know what he is (and if we’re going to break out in a rash!)!
Thanks!
Signature: Bree – North Carolina

Banded Tussock Moth Caterpillar
Banded Tussock Moth Caterpillar

Hi Bree,
We believe this is a Banded Tussock Moth Caterpillar,
Halysidota tessellaris, which we initially identified on the Field Biology in Southeastern Ohio website, and we then confirmed with this matching photo on BugGuide.  Also known as the Pale Tussock Moth or Pale Tiger Moth, this species does have considerably variation in the coloration of the caterpillar, according to BugGuide.

Banded Tussock Moth Caterpillar
Banded Tussock Moth Caterpillar

Letter 4 – Banded Tussock Moth Caterpillar

 

Subject: Caterpillar crawling on playground
Location: Viroqua, WI 54765
September 10, 2015 7:05 am
On Sept. 8, 2015 I encountered this fuzzy caterpillar crawling on the children’s playground equipment. Location was the City Park, Viroqua WI 54665. The pic was taken at approx. 5:30 pm. Please help me identify it. Also, can it sting children who may find it while playing?
Signature: Angela Karwoski

Our Automated Response
Thank you for submitting your identification request.
Please understand that we have a very small staff that does this as a labor of love. We cannot answer all submissions (not by a long shot). But we’ll do the best we can.

Thank you!  I appreciate your efforts regardless if you are able to identify my submission.  I have referred to your site several times to find out various information.
I submitted this time due to my concern for the kids who play on that playground equipment so frequently.
I think it’s time I make a donation thinking back to how many times I have found it a very valuable resource.  Thanks for sharing your knowledge, it’s very much appreciated.

Banded Tussock Moth Caterpillar
Banded Tussock Moth Caterpillar

Dear Angela,
Thanks so much for your kind words.  We are nearly certain this is a Banded Tussock Moth Caterpillar,
Halysidota tessellaris, based on its resemblance to this image on BugGuide.  According to BugGuide:  “Larvae feed on alder, ash, birch, elm, hazel, hickory, oak, poplar, tulip tree, walnut, willow.”  There is no mention of utricating hairs.

Letter 5 – Banded Tussock Moth Caterpillar

 

Subject:  Caterpillar stripping leaves on apple trees
Geographic location of the bug:  N. central NH
Date: 08/27/2018
Time: 04:26 PM EDT
Your letter to the bugman:  Hi, I found my apple trees being stripped of leaves and these critters seem to be the obvious culprits. Can you identify it for me?
Thanks
How you want your letter signed:  David

Banded Tussock Moth Caterpillar

Dear David,
This is a Banded Tussock Moth Caterpillar,
Halysidota tessellaris, and according to BugGuide:  “Larvae feed on alder, ash, birch, elm, hazel, hickory, oak, poplar, tulip tree, walnut, willow.”  BugGuide does have a posting of an individual found under an apple tree.

Letter 6 – Banded Tussock Moth Caterpillar

 

Subject:  Fuzzy Wuzzy Friend
Geographic location of the bug:  Holly Springs, MS
Date: 09/27/2019
Time: 10:01 AM EDT
Your letter to the bugman:  Hi again Daniel!
A previous Bug Queen here. I have a new friend I have since freed to the yard. Would you please be so kind as to identify my fuzzy wuzzy pal?
How you want your letter signed:  Your biggest fan, Stephanie

Banded Tussock Moth Caterpillar

Dear Stephanie,
This looks like a Banded Tussock Moth Caterpillar,
Halysidota tessellaris, to us, and though it is a variably colored caterpillar, it does match the individual in this BugGuide image.  According to BugGuide:  “Larvae feed on leaves of alder, ash, birch, elm, hazel, hickory, oak, poplar, tulip tree, walnut, willow.”

Reader Emails

Over the years, our website, whatsthatbug.com has received hundreds of letters and some interesting images asking us about these insects. Scroll down to have a look at some of them.

Letter 1 – Banded Tussock Moth Caterpillar

 

What is this caterpillar?
What is this? We found him on our picnic table last weekend at Burr Oak State Park near Nelsonville, Ohio. It is in the SE part of the state in the foothills of the Appalachian mountains (if that helps). We didn’t touch it becuase Mom read “stinging caterpillars” are fuzzy ones. Please help! Thanks!!!
Kyra and Ella Walker

Hi Kyra and Ella,
This is one of the Tussock Moth Caterpillars in the genus Halysidota. It is most likely the Banded Tussock Moth Caterpillar, Halysidota tessellaris. While it is true that caterpillars with hairs and spines are sometimes stinging species, this is not one of those.

Letter 2 – Banded Tussock Moth Caterpillar

 

Subject: Caterpillar identification
Location: Athens, GA
July 3, 2014 6:12 pm
Caterpillars are difficult for me to identify, even with a key. This one was found in a wooded subdivision in Northeast, GA.. (Athens area) A river with creek tributaries is close by. They seem to be more numerous this year. My friends are asking me, but I am clueless. I have answered them, “moth”.
Signature: Another Ed in Athens

Banded Tussock Moth Caterpillar
Banded Tussock Moth Caterpillar

Dear Ed,
One of the best clues for identifying caterpillars is knowing the plant upon which it was feeding.  We believe this is a Banded Tussock Moth Caterpillar or Pale Tussock Moth Caterpillar,
Halysidota tessellaris, and you can compare your image to those posted on BugGuide

Letter 3 – Banded Tussock Moth Caterpillar, we believe

 

Subject: White Caterpillar NO black spots
Location: Lake Jordan, North Carolina – mid- October
October 20, 2013 2:33 pm
Hi Bugman,
My husband and I were hiking around Jordan Lake near Raleigh, North Carolina this fine mid-October afternoon and this little guy hitched a ride on his jeans. I’ve been trying to identify him but I cannot find a picture online that doesn’t have black spots and does have black feathery things! He didn’t have black spots on his back so I don’t think he’s a Hickory Tussock, but we’d love to know what he is (and if we’re going to break out in a rash!)!
Thanks!
Signature: Bree – North Carolina

Banded Tussock Moth Caterpillar
Banded Tussock Moth Caterpillar

Hi Bree,
We believe this is a Banded Tussock Moth Caterpillar,
Halysidota tessellaris, which we initially identified on the Field Biology in Southeastern Ohio website, and we then confirmed with this matching photo on BugGuide.  Also known as the Pale Tussock Moth or Pale Tiger Moth, this species does have considerably variation in the coloration of the caterpillar, according to BugGuide.

Banded Tussock Moth Caterpillar
Banded Tussock Moth Caterpillar

Letter 4 – Banded Tussock Moth Caterpillar

 

Subject: Caterpillar crawling on playground
Location: Viroqua, WI 54765
September 10, 2015 7:05 am
On Sept. 8, 2015 I encountered this fuzzy caterpillar crawling on the children’s playground equipment. Location was the City Park, Viroqua WI 54665. The pic was taken at approx. 5:30 pm. Please help me identify it. Also, can it sting children who may find it while playing?
Signature: Angela Karwoski

Our Automated Response
Thank you for submitting your identification request.
Please understand that we have a very small staff that does this as a labor of love. We cannot answer all submissions (not by a long shot). But we’ll do the best we can.

Thank you!  I appreciate your efforts regardless if you are able to identify my submission.  I have referred to your site several times to find out various information.
I submitted this time due to my concern for the kids who play on that playground equipment so frequently.
I think it’s time I make a donation thinking back to how many times I have found it a very valuable resource.  Thanks for sharing your knowledge, it’s very much appreciated.

Banded Tussock Moth Caterpillar
Banded Tussock Moth Caterpillar

Dear Angela,
Thanks so much for your kind words.  We are nearly certain this is a Banded Tussock Moth Caterpillar,
Halysidota tessellaris, based on its resemblance to this image on BugGuide.  According to BugGuide:  “Larvae feed on alder, ash, birch, elm, hazel, hickory, oak, poplar, tulip tree, walnut, willow.”  There is no mention of utricating hairs.

Letter 5 – Banded Tussock Moth Caterpillar

 

Subject:  Caterpillar stripping leaves on apple trees
Geographic location of the bug:  N. central NH
Date: 08/27/2018
Time: 04:26 PM EDT
Your letter to the bugman:  Hi, I found my apple trees being stripped of leaves and these critters seem to be the obvious culprits. Can you identify it for me?
Thanks
How you want your letter signed:  David

Banded Tussock Moth Caterpillar

Dear David,
This is a Banded Tussock Moth Caterpillar,
Halysidota tessellaris, and according to BugGuide:  “Larvae feed on alder, ash, birch, elm, hazel, hickory, oak, poplar, tulip tree, walnut, willow.”  BugGuide does have a posting of an individual found under an apple tree.

Letter 6 – Banded Tussock Moth Caterpillar

 

Subject:  Fuzzy Wuzzy Friend
Geographic location of the bug:  Holly Springs, MS
Date: 09/27/2019
Time: 10:01 AM EDT
Your letter to the bugman:  Hi again Daniel!
A previous Bug Queen here. I have a new friend I have since freed to the yard. Would you please be so kind as to identify my fuzzy wuzzy pal?
How you want your letter signed:  Your biggest fan, Stephanie

Banded Tussock Moth Caterpillar

Dear Stephanie,
This looks like a Banded Tussock Moth Caterpillar,
Halysidota tessellaris, to us, and though it is a variably colored caterpillar, it does match the individual in this BugGuide image.  According to BugGuide:  “Larvae feed on leaves of alder, ash, birch, elm, hazel, hickory, oak, poplar, tulip tree, walnut, willow.”

Reader Emails

Over the years, our website, whatsthatbug.com has received hundreds of letters and some interesting images asking us about these insects. Scroll down to have a look at some of them.

Reader Emails

Over the years, our website, whatsthatbug.com has received hundreds of letters and some interesting images asking us about these insects. Scroll down to have a look at some of them.

Reader Emails

Over the years, our website, whatsthatbug.com has received hundreds of letters and some interesting images asking us about these insects. Scroll down to have a look at some of them.

Reader Emails

Over the years, our website, whatsthatbug.com has received hundreds of letters and some interesting images asking us about these insects. Scroll down to have a look at some of them.

Authors

    by
  • Bugman

    Bugman aka Daniel Marlos has been identifying bugs since 1999. whatsthatbug.com is his passion project and it has helped millions of readers identify the bug that has been bugging them for over two decades. You can reach out to him through our Contact Page.

    View all posts
  • Piyushi Dhir

    Piyushi is a nature lover, blogger and traveler at heart. She lives in beautiful Canada with her family. Piyushi is an animal lover and loves to write about all creatures.

    View all posts

6 thoughts on “Banded Tussock Moth Caterpillar: All You Need to Know in a Nutshell”

  1. Banded Tussock Moth Caterpillars can sting! My 4 year old was stung by this caterpillar this past weekend. The sting hurts for while and then turns into an itchy swollen rash.

    Reply
  2. We live in Vermont and my husband got stung by one broke out with a very itchy swollen rash plus nausea. These are stinging caterpillars.

    Reply

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