Buff tip moth

The large yellow and black caterpillars of this moth feed in groups and can consume large areas of foliage on shrubs and trees. This usually has little effect of the health of the host plant. and is part of the biodiversity a healthy garden supports.

Buff-tip moth (<EM>Phalera bucephala</EM>) on hornbeam
Buff-tip moth (Phalera bucephala) on hornbeam

Quick facts

Common name Buff  tip moth
Scientific name Phalera bucephala
Plants affected: Oak (Quercus), hornbeam (Caprinus), lime (Tilia), birch (Betula) and many other deciduous trees
Main symptoms: Large (up to 50mm long) yellow and black caterpillars
Most active: July to October

What is Buff tip moth?

Buff tip moth adults have a wingspan of approximately 50mm. When at rest they resemble a broken twig of silver birch trees. It is the caterpillars that are often noticed in gardens as they are up to 50mm long and have black heads with hairy black and yellow-chequered bodies. They feed gregariously and can cause a significant amount of defoliation on their deciduous tree hosts. The damage rarely has any long term effects on the health of trees and this insect is part of the biodiversity a healthy garden supports.


Large (up to 50mm long) black and yellow hairy caterpillars causing defoliation of large parts of host trees. It is found on oak, hornbeam, lime, cherry, birch and many other deciduous trees and shrubs. Small trees or shrubs can be completely defoliated, but they will usually recover.

The caterpillars are present from July to October and when fully grown enter the soil to pupate. After overwintering as a pupae the adult moths emerge from late May to July.


Defoliation is most severe on small trees, however as this usually occurs late in the season it should not affect the long term health or vigour of the plants. Therefore as the caterpillars, and associated moths,are part of the wildlife a healthy garden supports and should be preserved. If the caterpillars are spotted early on small trees they can be removed to a larger tree. On larger trees whilst some parts of the plant may be defoliated this will have no effect on the health of the host. It is unusual for a tree to be affected in two subsequent seasons by this moth.  In addition the caterpillars, and associated moths, can be an important as a food source for other garden wildlife.

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