Looking after our grandson yesterday afternoon, we did an impromptu picnic on the lawn after he helped out pulling up weeds and couch grass from the borders.
We’d laid out an old sleeping bag and were chatting away when I spotted a creeping critter like the one in the image, making its way steadily under my wife’s legs. It’s not one I’ve noticed before as I’m sure I would have done given its bright colour and distinct red tail. It was about half the size of my little finger, the yellow of a highlighter pen, with black lateral markings which only appeared when it stretched forwards in motion. It was fairly hairy all over but it had four stiff looking tufts, like tiny shaving brushes, along the forward part of its back. It looked designed for dangerous intent, despite its size.
Ironically, the adult moth it would become is a most inconspicuous one. It is the Pale Tussock Moth, a moth whose grey colouring is perfect camouflage against tree bark.
The caterpillar was likely looking for a place to pupate. It does this under old leaf litter where it overwinters. A nice fact I found is that the caterpillars sometimes feed on hop leaves and the old hop pickers of Kent, in SE England, knew them as Hop Dogs.
The hairs are rumoured to cause skin irritation though I didn’t know it at the time and felt no ill effects after rescuing it from a potential picnic blanket tragedy.
I had no camera available so this is a stock shot, sorry, the best I could bear to find on google.