Sunday 11 August 2019

Who’d be a female Rusty Tussock?
File:Vapourer Moth . Orgyia antiqua. Female. - Flickr - gailhampshire.jpg
Female Rusty Tussock
Image courtesy of gailhampshire, Wikimedia Commons
She has only vestigial wings so cannot fly to escape her suitor, even if she wanted to. Apparently, she resembles an overweight hairy woodlouse – not a flattering description designed to elicit gasps of wonder and delight. As soon as she emerges from her pupa she emits pheromones to attract a mate. After she has successfully mated she lays her eggs – several hundred of them! - on the cocoon from which she has hatched and dies. A short and not very merry life, it would seem.
Male Rusty Tussock, Vapourer moth
Image courtesy of Ben Sale, Wikimedia Commons
Meanwhile, her handsome day-flying moth mate is free to soar, frequently seen in the afternoon sun and sometimes attracted to light at night. As the name Rusty Tussock suggests, he is a rich red-brown colour. Each forewing has a noticeable white eye spot.
Rusty Tussocks are Vapourer Moths. When I heard this name I had visions of Edwardian lady moths swooning and needing to be revived with smelling salts. If one does not eat, one feels faint. The Vapourer does not eat during his short life but does not feel dizzy, as far as we know, and dies in the autumn or winter.
Vapourer Moth eggs
Image courtesy of gailhampshire, Wikimedia Commons

Meanwhile, the several hundred eggs inside their hard shells overwinter to emerge as very hairy caterpillars in the spring and proceed to feed on a variety of deciduous trees and shrubs. The caterpillars are eye-catching, in their colourful livery, and can be seen between May and September. Their dark bodies are covered in small red spots and short greyish hairs but resist the temptation to stroke them as the hairs can cause skin irritation. (That is advice for children. Six-year-old Frankie stroked a bee one day and was stung for his affection!)  In addition they have four yellow chimney-like bristles on their backs and tufts of black hair fore and aft, two and one respectively.
Rusty Tussock, Vapourer moth, Orgyia antiqua

The one pictured here was feasting on a sweetly-scented white Buddleja. Rusty Tussocks are quite common, particularly in the south of the UK, but this was the first one I had ever noticed.