Caterpillars of the
World - Britain
Superfamily - NOCTUOIDEA
Family - NOTODONTIDAE
© Peter Bruce-Jones
family Notodontidae comprises of about 3800 species.
The moths are found
in all regions of the world, with the greatest diversity and
abundance in the Amazonian rainforests. The adults of most species
are coloured in subtle hues of brown, grey and/or white, cryptically
patterned with blotches or striations. Some such as the Buff-tip
Phalera bucephala ( subfamily
Phalerinae ) are wonderfully disguised as snapped twigs. Others
include the Pale Prominent Pterostoma palpina
( Notodontinae ) which is almost indistinguishable from a piece of
broken wood, and the Lobster moth Stauropus
fagi ( Heterocampinae ) which looks exactly like a bit of
tree bark. One unusual tropical subfamily is the Dioptinae which
comprises mostly of aposematically patterned black and yellow
day-flying species. Another interesting subfamily is the
Thaumetopoeinae, whose larvae form swarms and follow each other
head-to-tail from place to place as they feed, hence the popular
name 'processionary moths'.
Members of the
subfamily Notodontinae are all cryptically patterned nocturnal
species. They have long cylindrical abdomens, and furry forelegs
which project forwards in front of the head when the moths are at
rest. In many species the inner margins of the forewings have
prominent lobes which project above the thorax when the wings are
folded over the body, giving rise to the common term 'prominent'
Cerura is usually classified as
belonging to the Notodontinae but some workers place it in the
Heterocampinae, or include it and the closely allied genus
Stauropus in the Stauropinae.
There are 21
Cerura species, distributed variously
from Europe to Indonesia.
Cerura vinula is found throughout
Europe, and across temperate Asia to China.
This species is found in deciduous woodland at
altitudes between sea level and about 1000m. It can also be found in
gardens and suburban parks.
The eggs are reddish-brown and dome-shaped. They
are laid singly or in clusters of 3 or 4 on the upper surface of
leaves of the foodplants which include sallow
Salix, and poplars Populus.
The caterpillar is
disruptively patterned in green and purplish brown, making it very
difficult to find when at rest among green foliage. In common with
other Notodontinae species it rests with its head and tail raised.
Its anal claspers are highly modified into a pair of long upcurved
tails. If molested by parasitoid wasps or flies, the caterpillar
adopts a threatening pose by retracting its head into the first
thoracic segment, causing this to expand, revealing a pink face with
a pair of black false-eye markings. If further molested it swings
its head violently from side to side and extrudes bright red
whip-like structures from the tail horns. These are waved in the air
and disseminate airborne formic acid vapour, which deters further
The pupa is formed
on the lower part of a tree trunk, within a cocoon comprised of silk
interwoven with numerous tiny pieces of chewed bark. The shell of
the cocoon is extremely hard, and almost impossible to distinguish
from the surrounding bark. Prior to emergence the newly hatched moth
uses a solvent exuded from its mouthparts to soften the cocoon and
force its way out.
The adult is white, patterned with grey and black
wavy lines. The forelegs are white and very furry, and project
forward giving the appearance of cats ears, hence the common name
© Peter Bruce-Jones