Buck Moth

Buck Moth:
Hemileuca maia (Drury) (Saturniidae)

L.L. Hyche, Associate Professor
Department of Entomology & Plant Pathology
Auburn University

The buck moth occurs throughout the eastern United States from Maine to Florida west to Texas, Kansas, and Wisconsin. Caterpillars (Photo 1) feed on foliage of oak. Scrub, live, blackjack, and post oaks are reported as favored hosts.   

Life Cycle, Description, and Habits

 Adults emerge and fly in the fall, usually October to December. Wings of adults are black and semitransparent. There is a light band across the middle of each front and hind wing. Wingspan is 50-75 mm. Eggs are laid in clusters on twigs of host trees during the fall. Hatch occurs in the spring, usually late April or early May in Alabama, and caterpillars are present in May to mid-June.

Young larva (Photo 2) are dark brown to black. Full-grown caterpillars (Photo 1) are about 60 mm long. The head is dark reddish-brown to black, and the body brown to black sprinkled liberally with small yellowish dots. There is a double row of short, tannish tufts of spines down the back, and rows of longer red to black, bristly tubercles to each side. Tubercles are armed with yellow and black urticating spines. Early stage larvae feed in a group; late-stage caterpillars separate and feed singly. In June, mature larvae enter the soil and transform to pupae. The pupal stage (Photo 3) lasts through the summer, and new moths emerge in the fall. There is one generation per year. 

Occurrence, Damage, Importance

 In Alabama, buck moth infestations are usually small and localized. Post oak seems to be a favored host. The caterpillars possess poisonous spines capable of causing painful skin irritation.