We recently received an excellent photograph of a worm-like organism from one of our readers. She explained that she saw the specimen hanging by a silk thread from a tree in her backyard in Eastern Tennessee. The creature is, “white, fuzzy, hairy, with a deep orange jelly face.” She would like to know what this critter is:
This is a fantastic photo! We can clearly see the tiny orange face and just how hairy this little guy is. It has some longer tufts of hair near its head and rear that might be white, or might just appear white in the photo but might actually be another color. We are confident that this is some type of caterpillar, which means it is the larva of a moth or butterfly. There are around 20,000 species of caterpillars throughout the world. They can be tricky to identify by species because two larvae of the same species might look quite different while two larvae of two different species might be identical. Luckily, the distinct features of this caterpillar will likely make it easier to identify.
We believe that our reader has discovered a sycamore tussock moth larva, otherwise known as a Halysidota harrisii. As the name hints, the sycamore tussock caterpillar feeds on the American sycamore tree. These caterpillars are found in South-Eastern Canada, parts of the Eastern United States, and North-Eastern Mexico. Although these caterpillars are truly striking, our reader should not try to touch the specimen she found. Their hairs are known to cause hives to those who come into direct contact with them, which is one of their defense mechanisms that they use against potential predators. So, we recommend that our reader admire this caterpillar from afar!
To wrap up, a reader sent us a fabulous photo of a fuzzy white caterpillar she found in her backyard. We believe the specimen is a sycamore tussock moth larva.