I’ve photographed puss moth caterpillars (Cerura vinula) before, but this summer I wanted to follow them through all 5 stages, or ‘instars’, of their larval development.
Luckily I discovered a batch of recently laid puss moth eggs by searching the exact same aspen sapling chosen by another adult female the previous year.
6 June: Unhatched Ova
Cluster of puss moth eggs (Cerura vinula) on underside of aspen leaf
12 June: Hatched Ova
Hatched eggs of puss moth larvae (Cerura vinula), showing signs of early feeding activity nearby.
12 June: 1st Instar
The ‘puss’ moths look a lot more cat-like at this early stage in their development I reckon.
1st instar puss moth larva (Cerura vinula) on aspen leaf. The distinctive tail-like appendages are already present.
1st instar puss moth siblings (Cerura vinula) feeding on aspen
15 June: 2nd Instar
I’d received a shock on my visit the previous day when I found the caterpillars frozen rigid in position, with their backs arched and tails in the air. They looked decidedly dead and I thought they must have been parasitised. Today, however, they were re-animated once more.
Puss moth siblings sharing the same aspen leaf
The puss moth siblings were running out of space on their steadily consumed leaf and occasionally paused to whip their tails furiously at each other.
Close-up of 2nd instar puss moth. The jagged tentacles above the head are very prominent at this stage, unlike in the fully mature larva.
24 June: 3rd Instar
9 days later, after vanishing for several days, the two siblings had relocated further up the branch they originally hatched on. Neither was particularly active in the midday heat.
3rd instar puss moth larva resting on silk pad
The distinctive saddle patterning of the puss moth caterpillar is much more visible by this stage.
28 June: 4th Instar
It lashed with rain on my next visit and the only visible puss moth was trying its hardest not to get pummeled off the leaf. Its silk pad lashed to the surface provides a firm anchor for feet to grasp.
4th instar puss moth clinging to wet aspen leaf. The hump on its back is now filling out.
At this stage in its development the puss moth’s body has begun to envelop its head and the tentacles appear to have retracted.
9 July: 5th Instar
A further 11 days later I returned to find only one of the original 4 puss moth siblings remaining, now in its magnificent mature larval form.
5th instar puss moth larva. All the outlandish features of the mature larvae are now present, including the lurid pink face, flagellae and false eye spots.
Detail showing extended pink flagellae. When threatened the puss moth extends these whip-like appendages from its tail end and waves them around crazily.
To be continued…
Soon after reaching this mature larval stage the puss moth stops eating and leaves in search of a safe place to pupate. Its transformation into the furry white adult moth can then begin. Despite much searching I couldn’t locate any pupae. Next time maybe!