Tiger Moth

Facts & Identification

Latin Name

Arctia caja

Appearance

Tiger moths are classified by their brightly colored and boldly patterned wings, although every species boasts a relatively different look. The tiger moth’s name comes from the red-orange spots and white stripes found on many species. Their wings range from 50 to 70 millimeters long.

Behavior, Diet & Habits

Tiger moths are distributed all over the world, with the exception of Antarctica and can be found flying over lawns or through gardens. Their diet consists of drinking flower nectar and eating lichen. They are nocturnal and are most commonly seen during the late summer months. Their brightly colored wings are a warning sign to predators. Tiger moths are also able to make ultrasonic sounds using a tymbal organ in the thorax, which is used for mating and defense. For some species, the sound is so powerful that it has the remarkable ability to jam bat sonar.

Reproduction

Tiger moths take about a year to develop. Eggs are laid on the underside of leaves, which hatch furry-looking caterpillars called “woolly bears” during the fall. Most caterpillars are active during the day even though their adult form is nocturnal. They eat most plants and will roll tightly into a spiral if threatened. When winter arrives, woolly bears hibernate. During this time, the caterpillars nearly freeze their entire body in order to protect their organs from damage. Soon after temperatures warm up and the woolly bear leaves hibernation, it spins its cocoon to prepare to pupate. The adult tiger moth emerges from the cocoon after about two weeks.

Tiger Moths in Folklore

In some parts of the United States and Canada, woolly bear caterpillars are said to predict the severity of winter. Believers look at the brown stripe on the top of the caterpillar—the narrower the stripe, the more severe winter will be.