Vapourer moth caterpillar

Vapourer moth caterpillar ©Tom Hibbert


Scientific name: Orgyia antiqua
The mohawk-sporting caterpillar of this moth is often seen on shrubs and trees in late summer. As adults the orange-brown males fly by day, but the flightless females don't stray far from their cocoon.

Species information


Male wingspan: 12-17 mm

Conservation status


When to see

Adults: July - October in the south, emerging later further north
Caterpillars: May - September


Vapourers have a strange lifestyle. The male moths fly like normal, but females only have rudimentary wings and aren't capable of flying. Once a female has emerged from her cocoon, she gives off pheromones that males can track using their comb-like antennae. After mating, the female lays a batch of eggs on the cocoon from which she just emerged and dies shortly after. The eggs hatch the following spring.

The distinctive caterpillars feed on a wide range of broadleaved trees and shrubs, including blackthorn, oak, hazel, hawthorn and elm. They can be found in a variety of habitats, including woodland, parks, gardens, hedgerows and heathland.

The orange-brown males can be seen flying during the day in late summer and early autumn, often flying high and sometimes giving the impression of a small butterfly. They also fly at night and can be attracted to light.

How to identify

Adult males have broad orange-brown wings, with a few faint lines crossing them and an obvious white spot near the trailing corner of each forewing. They have large, comb-like antennae. Females are almost wingless, plump, buff-coloured and with smaller, non-combed antennae.

The hairy caterpillars are grey, black and red, with tufts of yellow hairs running along the back like a mohawk, and two black tufts at the front that almost give them the impression of a hairy scorpion.


Found throughout the UK

Did you know?

The name vapourer refers to the pheromones (the invisible 'vapours') that male moths follow to find freshly emerged females.

How people can help

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