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Making It Grow: What Kind of Caterpillar Is It?

Tussock moth caterpillar
Wikipeida: Ryan Hodnett

  Hello Gardeners, I’m Amanda McNulty with Clemson Extension and Making It Grow. Oh, the mysterious things that come to our office in pill bottles! Last week, we had a hairy caterpillar to ID, it was found munching on a rose leaf so our first thought was “the stinging rose caterpillar.” Caterpillars are juicy treats for birds and an extremely important food source for feeding young birds who need lots of protein and fat to grow. Some Lepidopteran larva have developed hairs called setae to defend themselves. These hollow hairs connect to glands that produce a poison, when an animal touches these hairs they break and release a toxin that causes a reaction. I sent a picture of our caterpillar to Making It Grow’s insect specialist Vicky Bertagnolli who said it was not a rose caterpillar but a Tussock moth, in the genus Orgyia, but, it too, is indeed a stinger.

Amanda McNulty is a Clemson University Extension Horticulture agent and the host of South Carolina ETV’s Making It Grow! gardening program. She studied horticulture at Clemson University as a non-traditional student. “I’m so fortunate that my early attempts at getting a degree got side tracked as I’m a lot better at getting dirty in the garden than practicing diplomacy!” McNulty also studied at South Carolina State University and earned a graduate degree in teaching there.