The speedy spotty body

July 01, 2021  •  Leave a Comment

The golf course that I used to play a lot at, as it was about 60 seconds away from the house, was bought by developers a few years ago and now has a school and dozens of new "hyses" built on it.

That said, a significant part of the old golf course has been left to "re-wild" as such, but with a few ponds dug in for good measure - and to be fair, this part of the old golf course is really lovely at this time of year. 

The whole area is awash with wild, natural flowers and it hums with insects, presently.

I happened across this chap(pess?) on my brief 'poddle' through the flowers this morning.

A moth caterpillar.

A "White Ermine" moth caterpillar to be (literally) specific.

But how can you tell? I hear you cry. (Well... I obviously can't hear you cry that right now, but generally whenever I identify a beastie, people around me immediately tend to say the same thing: "How do you KNOW that"?)

I'm tempted, at times like that to answer along these lines:

"How do I KNOW you're a human? Because, well... you obviously are a human. Clearly".

"How do I KNOW that big flying thing up there in the clouds is a jumbo jet?  Simply because it LOOKS like a jumbo jet. Nothing else looks like that".

After 40 odd years of arseing about in the countryside, learning to identify many things, those sort of answers are tempting, sure, but not very helpful to anyone.


To expand a bit.

Caterpillars can often be identified by what plant they're on.  Actually, this reminds me of a wider point which I'm constantly pointing out to my eldest son. Don't identify things by their appearance firstly.  Before looking at what they look like look firstly at:

a) Where they are. What habitat. What plant.

b) What they are doing (are they eating, mating, calling, flying, hiding, displaying)?

c) When you see them (what time of year) and indeed under what conditions. Is it windy? Dry? June? December? Wet? 

OK... to return to our caterpillar - it was on ragwort. Which would often point to a cinnabar moth caterpillar of course. But this clearly is no yellow and black stripy cinnabar moth caterpillar. So it is a species of moth which is a bit generalist and CAN take the poison of ragwort.

It was sunny this morning and early July. Peak time for many moth caterpillars to be honest, so that doesn't help much.



It's hairy. Very hairy. Furry to be honest. But not in a giveaway fashion (like a pale tussock or a vapourer or even a drinker). So we're possibly looking at something like a tiger moth (of some description), a fox moth or an ermine moth (of some description).


And it has a pretty-obvious orange dorsal line, running down the length of its body.


This then would make it a "White ermine" moth, as no other ermine moth has this distinctive orange (or red or dark cream) dorsal line.

That's how I know what it is, in this case.

A very nice find.



What of the title of this blog post? What am I banging on about now?

The regular reader(s?) of this wildlife blog may know I like my scientific names and should probably briefly go into the scientific name of this moth.

The white ermine moth's scientific name is : Spilosoma lubricipeda.  

Lubricipeda from lubricipes. Swift-footed. (Speedy). The caterpillar doesn't half get a wriggle on, unlike many more ponderous larvae.

Spilosoma from  the Greek spilos (a spot) and soma (the body). Many ADULT ermine (and tiger moths) have obvious spots or blotches along their hidden abdomens.

There you have it then, the "speedy spotty-body". ("speedy" referring to the caterpillar and "spotty-body" referring to the adult).

The (beautiful) white ermine moth.


Have a lovely weekend,




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