Lackey moth

Lackey moth caterpillarsJune is the main time of year to watch out for webs of Lackey moth caterpillars: hawthorn and blackthorn shrubs are good places to look.
Photo: Amanda Scott

Scientific name: Malacosoma neustria

Cornish name: ‘Gouwan’ is the general word for moth; ‘pryv del’ is the term for caterpillar

What to look for:

  • Colouring: The adult moth varies from sandy to reddish brown in colouring. The caterpillars are brown, striped with bright blue, orange and white.
  • Size: Wingspan of 25 to 35 mm (the female is larger than the male)
  • Where: Open woodland, scrub, hedgerows
  • Similar species: Ground Lackey moth

Between April and June, take a careful look in hawthorn or blackthorn shrubs for the prettily-coloured gregarious caterpillars of the Lackey moth. Also found on a range of other shrubs (especially those of the rose family), these caterpillars spin a silken web within which they feed on the young leaves of their host plant. The best time to see them, however, is when they emerge from the web to bask together.

The adult moths are nocturnal, flying in the months of high to late summer. Their sandy to brown colouration gives no hint of their more brightly-hued life as a blue- and orange-striped caterpillar. The eggs are laid around the stem of the host plant at the end of the summer, but the caterpillars do not emerge until the spring of the following year.

Did you know…?

…Lackey and other tent-weaving caterpillars position their web so that it catches the warmth of the early morning sun as quickly as possible.

…When searching for food, caterpillars of this and similar species leave a chemical trail, so that their web-mates can follow them.

Lackey moth by Ben Sale information and references:

Chinery, M., 2005. Collins Complete Guide to British Insects. Collins, London.

Waring, P., Townsend, M. and Lewington, R., 2009. Field Guide to the Moths of Great Britain and Ireland (second edition). British Wildlife Publishing, Gillingham, Dorset.

Published: June 2014
Author: Amanda Scott
Photos: Caterpillars, Amanda Scott; adult moth, Ben Sale from Stevenage, UK