This isn’t the famous “Woolly Bear,” the caterpillar of the Isabella Tiger Moth (Pyrrharctia isabella), whose width of its orange band is said to predict the severity of the coming winter. While we won’t spend time debunking this, if you are interested, there’s a fairly quick read on the National Weather Service’s site that does. Spotted Tussock Moth Caterpillars are in the same tribe of tiger moths. Adults of many species in this tribe are brightly colored or are strongly marked with stripes or other patterns and the larvae are densely hairy or spiny. They tend to not be picky eaters and feed on a wide variety of plants.
Spotted Tussock Moth Caterpillars can be found across southern Canada, in the western US, and in the Appalachians to South Carolina and Kentucky. Depending where you are at in their range their larvae can vary in appearance. Adults fly from May to July with the larvae being found from July to September. The caterpillars prefer to feed on leaves of poplar and willow, but will also feed on alder, basswood, birch, maple, and oak. Tussock moths get the name “tussock” from the tufts of hair on the caterpillar.
Photo by Heather McKee on 9/22/20 in Missoula, MT.