Buck Moths

Facts, Identification & Control

Scientific Name

Hemileuca maia

Appearance

The buck moth adult’s wingspan is about two to three inches. The front and hind wings are black with narrow bands of white that extend from the front edge to the rear edge of the wing. The male’s abdomen is black with a red tip, while the female’s abdomen does not have a red tip. Males are smaller than females. Buck moth caterpillars are about 2 ½ inches long when fully grown, and have a reddish-colored head. The rest of the caterpillar’s body has a pattern of dense, white dots and orange-light reddish colored spines. These spines can penetrate skin and deliver a venom that causes a painful sting. The distribution of the buck moth is the portion of U.S. from Maine to Florida as far west as Wisconsin, Kansas and Texas.

Behavior, Diet & Habits

The buck moth’s life cycle: egg, larvae (caterpillar), pupae (cocoon) and adult. Their preferred habitat is dry woodland areas where scrub oak, live oak, post oak and blackjack oak trees are found. In addition, buck moths may be found on willow, hazelnut and cherry trees. The only stage that feeds is the caterpillar. The buck moth has only one generation each year.

Adult moths begin flying in September through November, depending on the weather, and are seen actively flying during mid-day in oak forests. Soon after mating, the female deposits a cluster of eggs that surrounds twigs and small branches of the host plant. The eggs overwinter and the larval hatch begins in the next spring when new plant growth appears. The newly hatched larvae group together and continue to occur in clusters through their first three larval stages. After the third instar (stage), they disperse and forage on other plants where they feed until dropping to the ground and going into the inactive pupal stage. Pupation occurs in debris, like leaf litter, on the forest floor. Once the pupal stage has finished, an adult buck moth emerges and becomes active in the fall.

More Information

In most cases, buck moth infestations are usually small and located in specific areas. However, this moth is a serious problem around people since coming into contact with the caterpillar’s spines causes pain, itching, swelling and redness. Therefore, avoid handling or otherwise coming into contact with not only buck moths, but any caterpillar that appears to have spines. If exposed, consult your family doctor for advice and first aid care. Also, be sure to contact your pest management professional for help identifying the insect and recommendations for effective prevention and control.