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White-marked Tussock Moth (Orgyia leucostigma)

White-marked tussock moth of the Erebidae family is indigenous to different parts of North America. The larva is more common than the adult, mostly seen during late summer, particularly in the eastern parts of North America, throughout California, Alberta, and Texas. The white-marked tussock moth has five subspecies in total, some of them being the O. l. leucostigma and O. l. oslari.

White-marked Tussock Moth

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Scientific Classification


  • Family: Erebidae
  • Genus: Orgyia
  • Scientific Name: Orgyia leucostigma

Description and Identification

Caterpillar

The larva, growing to about 3.5 cm has a red head and a bright-colored body marked with white or yellow stripes. A long, black stripe is also seen going through the centre of its back. One of the striking features of the white-marked tussock moth larva is the hair-like setae covering its body. Four tufts of white hair resembling a toothbrush are seen from its back, while grayish-brown hair pencils occur near its hind end.

White-marked tussock moth caterpillar sting

Since they have long urticating setae, the larvae of these moths sting when touched, causing allergic reactions to humans. Hence, careful handling is needed to minimize the chances of any unavoidable circumstances.

White Marked Tussock Moth Larvae

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White Marked Tussock Moth Caterpillar

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Pupa

The pupae remain encased within a grayish cocoon in the barks of trees and emerge into an adult moth after approximately two weeks. They have an overall hairy appearance, with hairy projections on their abdominal segments. The male pupae have longer antennae and wings than their female counterparts.

White Marked Tussock Moth Cocoon

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Adult Moth

Sexual Dimorphism: Present

The most common difference between the male and female moths is the wings, prominent in the former and almost absent in the latter. The female moths mostly remain in and around their cocoon, barely having wings. Besides, the male moths appear smaller and dull-colored with pronounced comb-like antennae.

Color and Appearance

When opened, the wings are gray with black lines running in a wavy pattern. Both the wings have a similar pattern and color, except for a white spot seen on its forewings. When closed, the pattern and color of the wings remain unchanged, though the white spot gets less prominent.

Average Wingspan: 2.0 – 3.5 cm

Flight Pattern: Consistent

Season: June – November

Orgyia leucostigma

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Eggs

The eggs are laid over the female’s cocoon covered with froth.

White-marked Tussock Moth Eggs

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Quick Facts

DistributionDifferent parts of North America
HabitatForests, urban regions, and everywhere else their host plants grow
PredatorsNot recorded
Lifespan of AdultsAbout 15 – 30 days
Host PlantsApple, elm, fir, black locust, cherry, rose, oak, chestnut, willow, spruce, hemlock, hackberry, elm
Adult DietNectar of their host plant’s flowers

Did You Know

  • English botanist James Edward Smith described the white tussock moth in 1797.
  • Its genus name Orgyia translates to outstretched arms in Latin. This is how most of the moths of the genera remain when at rest.
White Marked Tussock Moth Image

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White-marked Tussock Moth Picture

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White Marked Tussock Moth Photo

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