A pale tussock moth in Kathmandu (Observation Note)

Day 1 – June 29 | First sighting of the tussock caterpillar

It all started a couple of weeks ago. I saw a funny caterpillar in my garden. Caterpillars are usually boring, munching on leaves and flowers, and eating and eating and pooping and eating and eating. This particular one was running around like crazy, as if it were late for some important appointment. I quickly took a short video. It was bright yellow and furry.

Day 1- Video of the yellow pale tussock caterpillar.

I think it sensed me as I started approaching closer and closer to get some nice photos, so it stayed still, forming a hairy ball in a leaf. Seeing it was going to be like that for a while, I went my way. I had no idea what it was, so I looked it up and found out that it was the yellow form of a pale tussock moth caterpillar.

Day 1 – This tussock moved so fast that most of the good photos I have is only of its back!
Day 1 – I think it sent the message loud and clear with those pointy spikes.

Day 2 – June 30 | It’s starting to build a cocoon!

The next morning when I came back to my garden, I checked the flower pot out of curiosity and came across this amazing sight. The caterpillar had stitched together two leaves of a vine to create a shelter and had started building a neat cocoon. So this was what yesterday’s fuss was all about. It had been impatiently searching for a cozy spot to settle down!

Day 2 – Two large green leaves stitched together with silk – a perfect spot to build its cocoon.

A quick search on the internet told me that tussocks use the hair on their body while constructing the cocoon. The cocoon structure quickly took shape, and I could still see the caterpillar moving inside, preparing its cocoon home to get ready for its transformation.

During the afternoon, it had started to rain. I went to check how the little fellow was doing. The ‘two leaves shelter’ had protected it well. And I could see it moving inside, working on the interior decoration.

Day 2 – The hairy cocoon soon started taking shape as the caterpillar worked meticulously.
Day 2 – Oblivious to the rain, this little guy was completely focused on its task.

Day 3 and Day 4 – July 1-2 | Transformation from caterpillar to pupa

The next day the cocoon had more layers of silk and hair. It looked completed. It was still see-through, and I could see the faint shape of the caterpillar inside. I guessed it was preparing to molt into its pupa form. And on the following day, I could faintly make out the dark red pupa inside the cocoon.

Day 3 – The cocoon looked ready and the caterpillar was inactive, preparing to turn into a pupa.
Day 4 – The pupa (dark red structure inside the cocoon) had already formed when I went to observe it on the fourth day.

Day 9 – July 7 | Bringing in the pupa for observation

Now that the pupa had formed, the only thing to do was wait. The usual time range for a tussock moth to emerge from its pupa is around two weeks. I knew it was slowly doing its thing, getting ready to transform from a crazy caterpillar to a crazy moth.

I had already observed the tussock for so many days, and I realized it would be sad if I missed the final form of my caterpillar. I wanted to wave goodbye and watch it fly away.

I did some reading and found out that the pupa could be safely separated from the cocoon without causing it any harm. So taking proper care, I removed the outer layers of the cocoon using scissors and forceps. Tussock caterpillar hair is known to cause an itchy rash. So I had a mask on and never touched anything directly. As the cocoon was see-through, it was easy to remove without harming the pupa.

Day 9 – Preparing to separate the pupa from the cocoon. The black plate is 10×10 cm.
Day 9 – Removing the outer layer of the cocoon. The black plate is 10×10 cm.

The pupa was dark red and shiny, and I saw the molted caterpillar cover inside the cocoon. The pupa wiggled a bit as it sensed a disturbance and then stayed still again. I placed the pupa in a jar for observation.

The contents of the cocoon – hair, the annoyed pupa, and the discarded molt.
The annoyed pupa was placed in a jar for further observation.

Day 14 and Day 15 – July 12-13 | The pale tussock moth

Finally, on the night of Day 14, an adult male tussock moth emerged from the pupa. I took some photos and noticed that it had just finished pumping its wings and had to dry it out. Since it was almost midnight, I decided to release it in the morning.

Day 14 – An adult male pale tussock moth emerged at night.
It was decided that the criminal would be released from its cell in the morning.

Early morning the next day, I released my tussock moth. I opened the jar. I took some photos to remember the moment. I wished it a happy life. It left without a word.

Day 15 – I couldn’t resist taking this group photo! Clockwise from top left – an annoyed tussock moth, dry leaf with destroyed cocoon, the empty pupa shell, and the tiny yellow piece is the remains of the caterpillar cover. The black plate is 10×10 cm.

Goodbye little buddy. Live long and prosper.


2 thoughts on “A pale tussock moth in Kathmandu (Observation Note)”

  1. Thank you for this. How neat to be able to follow the whole process. We sometimes have monarch butterfly caterpillars and I always watch them but have yet to see one become a butterfly. Supposedly birds won’t eat them because they are poisonous, but somehow they disappear. Monarchs are getting rare so I do my best to keep the milkweed they like, but not much luck. Still, there is always hope. Your little moth was quite handsome.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Glad you enjoyed it! It was fun following the progress of this little guy. And I was reading about monarchs in June while observing some plain tiger caterpillars. It was really fascinating. I didn’t even know how precious milkweeds were to these butterflies. It is sad how the monarchs are disappearing, and they need all the help they can get. Hope you get to see more of them in the future.

      Liked by 1 person

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