During walks over West High Down in recent days I have come across a number of these large caterpillars making their way across the short grass or, in this case, across the tarmac of the adjacent road.
They’re the larvae of the Fox Moth or, as they call it in France, Le Bombyx de la Ronce! These caterpillars are big and hairy. I was hesitant to handle it for fear of the hairs having irritant qualities and causing a rash, but it turns out that I needn’t have worried and I’m informed that I can let the next Bombyx de la Ronce that I come across crawl up my arm!
They are members of the Eggar family of moths and the male Fox Moths are regularly seen during the day, too, but the females prefer the twilight hours.
I imagine the ones moving about at the moment are gorging themselves on bramble and the like before searching out for some cosy leaf litter in which to pupate and wait for the Spring.