Thursday, October 18, 2012

Punk Moth

Pale Tussock Moth Larva, Calliteara pudibunda
With its bleached-blonde mohawk, running halfway down its yellow and black body and a shocking-red spike of tail hair, the larvae of the Pale Tussock Moth (Calliteara pudibunda) is nothing if not an attentions seeker. Yet its wildly flamboyant appearance serves an important role for the caterpillar. Its long body hairs will cause irritation upon handling, and in some cases can cause severe damage to human skin (1). It is therefore avoided by most predators, a fate that the less hirsute adults are unfortunate to avoid, being food for a variety of birds. It is found throughout Europe, and is most common in the south and west of Ireland (2).
Pale Tussock Moth Larva, Calliteara pudibunda
C. pudibunda is a polyhpagous insect, feeding on a range of plants including including hops, birch, elm, flowering cherry, hazel, hornbeam, oak, poplar, pussy willow and walnut (3). Beech is a particular favourite and large numbers have been known to occur that put immense stress on commercial beech plantations. Commercial, monocultural forests such as these are remarkable only for their lack of invertebrate biodiversity due to their lack of floral diversity (4), so lack of competition is partly responsible for such outbreaks. However, the introduction of only a small number of other tree species has been shown to reduce the numbers of C. pudibunda significantly (5). Chemical volatiles emitted from Norway Spruce grown in co-culture with beech will mask the signals that attract egg laying females to the host beech trees. Such inhibition has lead to a 25% reduction in numbers of C. pudibunda in commercial forests.

  1. Backshall, 2007. Venom: Poisonous Animals in the Natural World p 49
  2. Sterry, 2004. Collins Complete Guide to Irish Wildlife p. 112
  3. Alford, 2012. Pests of Ornamental Trees, Shrubs and Flowers p. 320
  4. Christensen and Jens Emborg, 1996. Forest Ecology and Management 85 pp. 47-51
  5. Heiermann and Sch├╝tz, 2008. Forest Ecology and Management 255 p. 1161-1166

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