Banded Tussock Moth

I hope someday to meet an adult of this handsome caterpillar; the adult banded tussock moth (Halysidota tessellaris) is equally handsome, with light brown, outlined/checkered stripes on a light background, perhaps with a hint of blue and yellow on the body, the whole insect looking a lot like an art deco stained glass window.

Tessellaris comes from the Latin tessella, “little square stone”. The name refers to the pattern of “blocks” forming the stripes on the adult moth’s forewings. The name “tussock” moth refers to the “pencils”, or little, longer tufts of fur on the caterpillars. The pencils sort of resemble a “tussock” of longer foliage. While the adult moths are pretty uniform in appearance, the caterpillars can be all sorts of shades from light to dark.

The name “tussock moth” is confusing, because although several types of tiger moths (in the subfamily Arctiinae) are called tussock moths, there is another subfamily (in the same family) called “true” tussock moths. Both groups have caterpillars with pencils. The so-called true tussock moths, in subfamily Lymantriinae, used to be in their own family (just as tiger and lichen moths did), but now the groups are joined in the new family Erebidae.

Most commonly found in the eastern United States, from Florida up through Maine and west to Kansas. As adults, these moths are visually identical to the sycamore tussock moth, Halysidota harrisii, differentiated only by dissecting their genitals (how much free time do you think I have?).

This individual has been identified via the kind people at iNaturalist.

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