White-marked Tussock Moth caterpillar, Orgyia leucostigma, feeding on Witch-hazel, Hamamelis virginiana.
A few weekends ago, I had the good fortune to cross paths with one of our more beautiful caterpillars while exploring forests along Columbiana County's Little Beaver Creek. White-marked Tussocks aren't rare; in fact, they are probably one of our more frequent caterpillars. But, caterpillars aren't the easiest things to find, and a bit of serendipity often factors into discoveries.
These things are wackily ornate, with various pencil-brushes, bristling setae, stripes, dots and colors. I was with some people who had never seen a White-marked Tussock and they seemed suitably impressed. They probably would have been less than awed by the adult - the tussock morphs into a bland brown moth that is completely unremarkable.
These cats are tolerant of a diverse diet, and in addition to the Witch-hazel that we found it munching on, they'll snack on a wide variety of woody plants. Remember, butterflies tend to be connoisseurs, finicky and ultra-selective, often only accepting one species of plant for their larval chow line. Moths, well, they're usually garbage-heads. Other appropriate food plants common to the area where I found this bushy little larva are Black Cherry, American Elm, Yellow Birch, Hackberry, and various oaks and hickories. They'll even process Eastern Hemlock, a conifer!
Look at the real brachonid cocoons, then scroll up and check out the White-marked Tussock.