A Loafer

Halysidota tesselaris on aspen
A tussock moth (Halysidota sp.) caterpillar on aspen


I try to go for a walk every day in the woods and swamps on my land even if only for an hour. I often bring a notebook to jot down the things I see and my camera to take photos of what I have seen. Saturday, I was walking along the edge of the woods and marsh where I had seen a very unusual aster late last year that I think might be Aster modestus. I didn’t find it, not this time, but maybe later next month.

While working my way back through a thicket of willows and aspens I saw a gray and black fuzzy caterpillar on the trunk of a small aspen. Looking directly at its head I was reminded of a furry terrier dog. I’m not sure to what species of insect the larva belongs but am confident it is in the Arctiinae (also known as the Arctiidae), the family of moths that includes the yellow bear and woolly bear moths and fall webworms. My best determination is that it may be a larva of a moth in the genus Halysidota or “tussock caterpillar” which are named for the clumps of hairs (tussocks) on their bodies.

There were other interesting insects seen that day including the gaudily colored caterpillar of the hooded owlet moth which contrasts sharply with the drab adult that could be mistaken for a flake of bark. Fanleaf clubmoss (Diphasiastrum digitatum) plants with fresh bright new leaves were abundant. In the forest openings starry blue asters and glowing spires of goldenrods signal the coming end of Summer and one last feast for the bees.


“If a man walks in the woods for love of them half of each day, he is in danger of being regarded as a loafer. But if he spends his days as a speculator, shearing off those woods and making the earth bald before her time, he is deemed an industrious and enterprising citizen.” Life without Principle by Henry David Thoreau

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