A colleague working for Surrey Wildlife Trust kindly guided me to the location of this wonderful puss moth caterpillar (Cerura vinula) yesterday. A pair of them were contentedly grazing on aspen leaves.
In adult form the furry grey and white moth flies at night between the months of May and July. The larval form looks much more exotic. The gawdy pink ring around its face gives the puss moth a very distinctive appearance.
If disturbed the puss moth caterpillar extends two whip-like appendages from its tail end and flails them around to deter attackers. It’s a bizarre and unexpected thing to witness.
It also has the ability to squirt formic acid from its thorax if further provoked, but I didn’t try that!
Shortly before pupation the caterpillar will change to a fetching shade of orange, and then again to purple.
It spins a cocoon of silk around itself and uses bits of tree bark as camouflage to stay hidden for the winter. The resulting cocoon is one of the strongest constructed by any UK moth.
I will have to return to see if I can find it in its various rainbow stages of development.