Orgyia antiqua

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Rusty tussock moth
Orgyia antiqua 20050816 365 part.jpg
Caterpillar in Berlin, mid-August
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Arthropoda
Class: Insecta
Order: Lepidoptera
Family: Lymantriidae
Genus: Orgyia
Species: O. antiqua
Binomial name
Orgyia antiqua
(Linnaeus, 1758)
  • Phalaena antiqua Linnaeus, 1758
  • Phalaena paradoxa (Retzius, 1783)
  • Orgyia confinis (Grum-Grshimailo, 1891)
  • Orgyia gonostigma (Scopoli, 1763)
  • Orgyia recens (Hübner, 1819)

Orgyia antiqua, the rusty tussock moth or vapourer,[1] is a moth in the family Lymantriidae that is native to Europe, but is now transcontinental in distribution in the Palaearctic and the Nearctic regions. The orange-brown male flies mostly during the day, but the female is flightless, spending her brief life attached to her cocoon. The hairy caterpillar is spectacular, with "humps", "horns", and a "tail" in a combination of dark grey, red, and yellow. It feeds on a wide range of broad-leaved trees and shrubs, and may reach pest proportions in forests and cities.


The female is flightless and spends her brief adult life clinging to her cocoon.
For a key to the terms used, see Glossary of entomology terms.

A striking dimorphism exists between the male and the female moths of this species. The male moth typically has orange- to red-brown (ochreous red and dark brown) wings; each fore wing has a white comma-shaped (tornal) spot. He has marked plumose (short, bipectinate) antennae. The wingspan measures between 35 and 38 mm. The female moth has vestigial wings and is flightless; she is light grey-brown (ochreous grey), has "shortly bipectinate" antennae, and a swollen abdomen.[2][3] The caterpillar is distinctive (see images and below).


O. antiqua is native to Europe, but now has a transcontinental distribution in the Palaearctic and the Nearctic regions.[4]


The species is not on the IUCN (2007) Red List;[5] and in the UK is considered a common resident.[3]


In the UK, O. antiqua may be encountered in a variety of shrub-based habitats, including gardens, parks, open woodland, fens, hedgerows, heaths. and moors.[3]


The male flies in a zigzag pattern—often high up in search of females—and is active during the day or at night. Males occasionally come to light.[3] In New Brunswick, adult males are attracted to pheromone traps set in commercial forests for white-marked tussock moth (O. leucostigma).[4]

The caterpillar is a minor forest pest in North America,[4] and may become a pest in cities in the UK.[6][2]



Egg-mass on empty cocoon on pine species

Several hundred eggs are laid on the outside of the female's empty cocoon, usually attached to a host plant or something close by (e.g. fence, wall).[3] The species overwinters in the egg stage. Each brownish egg is rounded, somewhat flattened top and bottom. A small darker depression is seen in the upperside.[2]


The larvae hatch early in the spring, as soon as foliage starts to appear.[2] They are easily recognized by their horn-like tufts of hair-like setae. Four toothbrush-like tufts occur along the back, and hair pencils project from the sides at the front and at the back. The body is dark grey to black, and red tubercules are along the sides and back. They have defensive glands at the back, and wipe their setae against them to charge them with toxins.[7] They grow to about 30–40 mm, females being considerably larger than males.[2] In the UK, caterpillars can be found between May and early September.[3]

O. antiqua observed in Brittany, France


The pupa forms in a crevice (e.g. in tree bark or fence) inside a silk cocoon. It is glossy black and hairy.[2]


Copulating O. antiqua

The female attracts other males via release of a pheromone, the males find the female via the concentration gradient of the released pheromeone. The female mates and lays her grey-yellow eggs in large numbers on her fine-meshed cocoon. The adult moths do not feed, so only live a short time. The two (sometimes three) generations fly from May till October; in North America, only one generation occurs in a year.[7] In the UK, one protracted generation, from July to October in the south, and from September to October in the north, is believed to happen.[2][3]

The males are diurnal, flying during the day, but are occasionally attracted to light.[2]

Host plants[edit]

They are polyphagous and feed on a wide range of deciduous trees and shrubs, such as birch (Betula), Crataegus, lime (Citrus), Prunus, Quercus, Rubus, Salix, Tamarix, and Vaccinium.[6][7]

In Scotland, the species is almost always found on birch.[2]



  1. ^ Explanation of name "vapourer"
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i de Worms, C.G.M. (1979). Lymantriidae. In Heath, J., Emmet, A.M., et al. (Eds.) The Moths and Butterflies of Great Britain and Ireland Vol. 9 Sphingidae–Noctuidae Noctuinae and Hadeninae. Curwen Books, London, UK, p. 70. 
  3. ^ a b c d e f g Waring, Paul; Townsend, Martin; Lewington, Richard (2003). Field Guide to the Moths of Great Britain and Ireland. British Wildlife Publishing, Hook, UK, p. 208. 
  4. ^ a b c Carter, Nelson E. (2004). Status of forest pests in New Brunswick in 2003. Department of Natural Resources, Fredericton, New Brunswick, pp. 7–8. (Available at [1]).  External link in |publisher= (help)
  5. ^ IUCN (2007), 2007 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, <>. Downloaded on 1 January 2008. 
  6. ^ a b Porter, Jim (1997). The Colour Identification Guide to Caterpillars of the British Isles. Viking, London, p. 80. 
  7. ^ a b c Wagner, D.M. (2005). Caterpillars of eastern North America. Princeton University Press. 

External links[edit]