If you're planning any hikes this autumn to enjoy the foliage, keep your eyes open for milkweed tussock caterpillars feeding on the leaves of milkweed plants. These caterpillars thrive in September and October, before killing frosts arrive.
Although small, this caterpillar is beatufully colored with orange, black, and white hairs called setae. Another noteworthy aspect is the remarkable behavior it exhibits when feeding. The caterpillar does not enjoy the sticky latex compound that’s associated with the milkweed plant. In a feat of amazing ingenuity, mature caterpillars often sever the vein before feeding on the leaf; hence reducing the flow of latex to the leaf, and keeping itself clean of the sticky milk
As they eat, they absorb toxins from the mildewed plant into their bodies. The toxins are carried over to the adult moth stage, giving them a foul taste to bats and other predators.
If you come across milweed on your property or on a hike, be on the lookout for this remarkable caterpillar. Some good areas around town to find them are the Wolf Pits Natuer Preserve, Huntington State Park, Overlook Park, and Tarrywile