A couple of days ago a friend rang to say she had a large moth laying eggs on her front door. Did I want to come over and take photos, as it looked like the moth was going to be busy for a while?
Since I was just about to start the washing up, there was clearly no alternative but to drop that task and rush over to Louisa's.
The moth turned out to be a Fox Moth Macrothylacia rubi (called le Bombyx de la ronce in French). It's a member of the Eggar family of moths, which tend to be large, furry and foxy coloured. Like most Eggars, the female Fox Moth is larger and less orangey than the male, and more grey.
Fox Moths are widely distributed throughout France and the adults are about from May to July. Males tend to fly on sunny afternoons, but females are much more nocturnal, and although this one was laying mid-morning, they usually lay their eggs at night. Usually they are laid on vegetation or twigs rather than doors, too.
The caterpillars eat a remarkably wide range of plants - brambles, strawberries, raspberries, alfalfa, clovers, blackthorn, potentillas, calluna, heathers and roses. They live communally, protecting themselves with a web and hibernating through the winter. The dark hairy caterpillars can be mistaken for the dreaded, but unrelated, processionary caterpillars, which have severely irritant hairs (similar to stinging nettle or poison ivy). The caterpillars of the Fox Moth can be picked up and handled, although if you are susceptible you might find that they give you a bit of a rash. The caterpillar wont be too impressed either to be picked up, and will form a coil in self-defence.
NB The species of processionary caterpillars that are dangerous to touch only makes its web in pine trees. The webs are much bigger and very visible compared to the webs of communally living eggar moth species, who generally choose a broadleaf species.