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.
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 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!
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 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 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.
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.
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.
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.