Tufted caterpillars

Vapourer moth (Orygia antiqua) caterpillar on strawberry tree (Arbutus unedo)

I spotted this stunning caterpillar munching away on the strawberry tree that I planted last winter. When I looked it up I found that it is, I think, a vapourer moth caterpillar. Everything I read suggested that these caterpillars feed on deciduous trees, especially fruit trees. So I thought that it must have fallen down from one of the neighbouring trees. But looking more closely, I noticed three of its shed skins on the undersides of the strawberry tree’s leaves. So it would seem it has completed its caterpillar life stage here, quite happily eating the strawberry tree’s evergreen leaves. In total, this one caterpillar has eaten less than one leaf. I read that they are “no longer a significant pest in orchards because of the use of insecticides”…

I also spotted another tufted caterpillar on a snowy mespilus shrub (Amelanchier lamarckii). It’s not as impressive as the vapourer, but still quite striking. It too is a moth caterpillar, this time of the grey dagger (Acronicta psi).

Caterpillar of grey dagger moth on snow mespilus

It always puzzles me that many people say they like butterflies; but they think moths are somehow less nice; and caterpillars are purely pests.




Peacock butterfly caterpillar

Peacock butterfly caterpillar
Peacock butterfly caterpillar – this one has wandered away from the defoliated nettle it was living on. Its orange feet (prolegs) mean it is quite “grown up”, for a peacock caterpillar.

The shiny, spikey black caterpillars of peacock butterflies feed on nettles.

We’ve fallen out of love with nettles – probably because they sting! – but they used to be more widely valued: as a vegetable, a medicinal herb and for making a (rather nice) textile. They’re a good plant for recycling nutrients and are rich in nitrogen, making them a valuable addition to the compost heap. And, of course, they’re good for wildlife.

Perennial nettles do spread easily, but they’re also easily pulled up, especially if you mulch around them. So, if you have the space, they’re a worthwhile addition to any wildlife garden area.