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  • Writer's pictureJanice Gill

Vapourer Moth Caterpillar - Not the Enemy.

This Vapourer Moth caterpillar was spotted today while we were cutting back the massively overgrown area at the bottom of the garden.

This creature is common throughout the UK and one of the easiest caterpillars to identify from the four yellow brushes down its back.

It is an unusual moth as the male and female adults are quite different. The male, which flies during September and October, is dark brown with white spots near the wing tips.

The female, however, is flightless with a grossly distended abdomen. When it exits its cocoon, it emits a pheromone to attract males, then lays its eggs on the cocoon shell and surrounding area.

The caterpillars can eat a variety of deciduous tree leaves, including Hawthorn, Damson, Oak and Hazel. They may also choose a gardener's prize specimen shrub and so be deemed a pest. The caterpillars may defoliate a part of a shrub, but the plant will come back next year. If an infestation gets too much, the caterpillars can be picked off and moved to a less important shrub, such as those in a hedgerow.

Vapourer Moth showing rusty brown colouration with one white spot on each wing.
Vapourer Moth Adult Male by Ben Sale from UK, CC BY 2.0 <>, via Wikimedia Commons

Prevention is better than cure, so encouraging birds into your garden keeps these caterpillars under control. This insect is an important part of the ecosystem for birds and small mammals, and it could be detrimental in the long run to eradicate this species.

It is worth wearing rubber gloves if you decide to relocate these caterpillars, as they can cause irritation if they come into contact with the skin. Likewise, while they make an interesting diversion for children, they should be aware that the striking colouration is a warning signal, so don't touch.

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