I walked past it the first time. Something about the fuzzy white patch on the branch caught my eye, however, and I turned back to take a look. Instead of a fungus, as I suspected, a hairy moth presented itself and I was introduced to a Large Tolype. I only identified the creature after the fact – but, for the sake of narrative I want to cut to the chase. Let’s just say that it was not hard determining it’s identity due to the size and hairiness. Not knowing the identity right away actually increased my wonder.
Apart from the moth-like wings there was little to define this critter as a moth, leave alone an insect. I realize this is s a creepy thought, but my initial reaction was that it was a cross between a snow white spider and a Shiatsu. It appeared to have a few too many legs – the fuzzy “appendages” sticking out of the back end turned out to be abdominal projections (oh, you say, that clears everything up). The Shiatsu part, well, hopefully you can see that. Even in a world of hairy moths, this one took the cake.
Based on the mysterious name, one might expect that Large Tolypes originate somewhere in Middle Earth (certainly lording over the small and medium Tolypes and fearing the huge Tolypes). I was unable to discover what “Tolype” means other than a cryptic genus name. The species name, “velleda” (Latin for veil) probably refers to the gossamer wings, but no one seems to know. Seeing this moth in its unique resting pose, I would propose that the veil reference might indicate how the thing hides its face behind a veil of hair. For some reason that makes me think of the Beetles tune – you know the one that says “got to be good look’n ‘cause he’s so hard to see.” He does have feet down below his knees… O.K., the fact that this moth is a she, not a he, makes the Beetle reference even more irresponsible on my part. Sorry. Maybe it doesn’t matter anyway because this moth was fascinating even before I knew what to call it in other languages.
It was apparent by the freshness of this specimen that it had just emerged from a cocoon. I surmised that it flew to this perch and sat the night out – a conclusion that proved completely wrong. When I stepped around the stick to get a different view, I realized that the cocoon was right in plain sight only inches from where the moth sat. The structure, a tightly woven brown bag of cardboard consistency, was nearly invisible underneath the angled portion of the branch (see last photo). A path of fine white hairs led from the cocoon opening to the moth. This fellow was just out.
It might seem odd for any moth to emerge as an adult in late September, but this is the normal flight time for this species. Emerging as late as October, they have the ability to fly at temperatures as low as 40 degree F according to one reference. This also explains some of the hairiness aspect as well (insulation), but not all of it. Even the caterpillars of the Tolype are exceedingly hairy. They munch upon broadleaf leaves during the warm summer months and use their hairiness to obscure their profile.
Tolypes are in the same family as the more familiar tent caterpillars. Unlike the tenters, they are solitary and do not make a web nest as a larvae. But, like the tenters, they apparently overwinter as eggs and the adults become hairless stiff corpses by the time the snow flies (in other words, hair today-gone tomorrow). That family name, by the way, is mouthful -Lasiocampidae. In idiot Latin I would translate it as “day campers who undergo laser hair removal” but I’m fairly certain I am mis-interpreting the hair removal part!