Ailanthus Webworm Moth Bite: Is It Poisonous? Find Out Now!

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The Ailanthus webworm moth is an intriguing species with elongated bodies and orange wings decorated with white and black dots. This creature raises questions about its potential for harm, specifically regarding its bite.

Do you know, Lepidopterism is the term used for skin and systemic reactions to contact with moth and butterfly larvae or caterpillars? However, it is essential to note that adult forms of moths and butterflies, such as this moth, do not sting.

Instead, any skin reactions might be associated with the caterpillar stage, also known as Erucism, which is derived from the Latin word “eruca,” meaning caterpillar source.

Ailanthus Webworm Moth Bite

Ailanthus Webworm Moth

Ailanthus Webworm Moth Overview

Appearance and Physical Features

The Ailanthus Webworm Moth (Atteva aurea) is an attractive and unique insect with a distinct appearance. This moth has:

  • Long and thin body
  • Wings that curve lengthwise along the body
  • Orange forewings with white spots outlined in black (resembling tiny flower patterns)
  • Upward-curving mouthparts (labial palps)
  • A tuft made of head scales
  • Filamentous antennae held out in front of the head

An adult Ailanthus Webworm Moth typically has a wingspan of about 1/2 inch.

Distribution and Habitat

The Ailanthus Webworm Moth is a species of the tropical ermine moth family, native to South Florida but generally found in the United States.

Over time, the moth expanded its range, adapting to various ecosystems. Today, they can be found in:

  • Parts of the United States
  • Regions beyond the tropics

These moths have become pollinators and are often observed visiting flowers of various species during daylight hours. Their mating and egg-laying behavior occurs at dawn and dusk, respectively.

Life Cycle and Behavior

Mating and Egg Laying

The life cycle of the ailanthus webworm moth begins with mating and egg-laying. Adult moths usually emerge around late June to early July1. After mating, females lay eggs on the underside of leaves2. Hatching occurs within 2 weeks2.

Larvae and Caterpillars

Once hatched, the larvae, also known as caterpillars, of the ailanthus webworm moth create webs in the trees3. These webs can be up to 2 to 3 feet in length3.

The caterpillars are slender with a brown to almost black color and sometimes have four white dots on the top of each segment4.

Here’s a quick comparison between the caterpillars and adult moths:

FeaturesCaterpillarsAdult Moths
SizeSmall1/2 inch4
ColorBrown-blackYellow-orange4
ActivitySummer3Late June, early July1
HostAilanthus tree4N/A

Pupation and Adult Moths

The caterpillars eventually enter the pupation stage, transforming into adult moths2. The winter months are spent as pupae in the soil2. In preparation for emerging in the summer months, larval development takes place2.

The adult moths are small, measuring about 1/2 inch in length, with yellow-orange wings marked by blue-black bands and white spots4.

In short:

  • Ailanthus webworm moths have a life cycle consisting of mating, egg-laying, larval and pupation stages.
  • Caterpillars create webs in trees during the summer months.
  • Pupation occurs during winter, and adult moths emerge in late June and early July.

Host Plants and Diet

Primary Host Plant: Ailanthus Altissima

The Ailanthus webworm moth primarily feeds on the Ailanthus altissima, or Tree of Heaven. This tree is native to China but has become widespread in the United States. Ailanthus trees provide an ideal environment for the moth’s larval stage.

  • Ailanthus trees are fast-growing, resilient, and considered invasive.
  • They produce a foul-smelling compound to deter herbivores.

Other Host Plants and Food Sources

While Ailanthus altissima is their main host plant, these moths can feed on other plant species as well. Some common plants they may use as secondary food sources include:

  • Shrubs, which can provide a diverse feeding ground.
  • Trees and plants in the Simaroubaceae family, such as Simarouba glauca and Simarouba amara.

Although their primary role is that of a pollinator, Ailanthus webworm moths are not restricted to consuming nectar as their only diet source. They are versatile eaters and able to adapt to various host plants.

 

Ailanthus altissima/Tree of Heaven

 
Host PlantProsCons
Ailanthus AltissimaThe ideal environment for the larval stageInvasive species
ShrubsDiverse feeding groundPotentially harmful
Simaroubaceae familyAdditional food sourcesNot always available

As seen in the table above, while the Ailanthus webworm moth has a preferred host plant, it can and will utilize other plant species when necessary.

This ability to adapt to their food sources makes them effective pollinators, albeit potentially harmful to certain plants.

Interactions with Humans and the Environment

Is the Ailanthus Webworm Moth Poisonous?

The Ailanthus Webworm Moth is not poisonous. They are small, jewel-like insects with unique color patterns. They have upward-curved labial palps and filamentous antennae1. Humans can safely interact with them without fear of being harmed.

Effects on Invasive Species

Ailanthus Webworm Moths are important for controlling invasive species like the Tree of Heaven. Their larvae feed on the leaves of these invasive trees, aiding in their management.

Management

Ailanthus Webworm Moths are not considered pests, so control measures are typically unnecessary. In fact, they are often welcomed by gardeners as they are effective pollinators2 and their larvae help control invasive species.

  • Pros:
    • Effective pollinators
    • Help control invasive species
    • Attractive appearance
  • Cons:
    • None
FeatureAilanthus Webworm MothFall Webworm
ImportancePollinatorsHarmful pests
Impact on TreesControl invasive speciesDamaging landscapes
DistributionTropical areasWidespread in the U.S.
AppearanceJewel-like insectsPlain, dull coloring

Conclusion

In summary, Ailanthus Webworm Moths are not poisonous and have a positive impact on the environment. They are effective pollinators and help control invasive species, making them a good addition to gardens and natural habitats.

Footnotes

  1. https://www.maine.gov/dacf/mfs/forest_health/insects/fall_webworm.htm 2 3 4
  2. https://www.canr.msu.edu/news/what-are-those-large-webs-in-my-trees 2 3 4 5 6 7
  3. https://mdc.mo.gov/discover-nature/field-guide/ailanthus-webworm-moth 2 3
  4. https://content.ces.ncsu.edu/ailanthus-webworm 2 3 4 5

Letter 1 – Mating Ailanthus Webworms

Ailanthus Webworms Mating Photo
Hi there, I just recently found your site and have found it quite helpful! I was going to submit the attached picture for identification, but, I found the bug on the site.

However, I wanted to send the photo anyway because it’s a great picture of 2 Ailanthus Webworms mating and thought you might like to add it to your photos. If not, that’s cool, but I thought I’d send it just in case.

I’m in Missouri and these bugs are all over the place. I assume it must have something to do with the insane amount of *annoying* Ailanthus trees we have surrounding our house? Hope you find the pic useful!

Sincerely,
Sara B.

Hi Sara,
Your photo of mating Ailanthus Webworms is beautiful. We get so many requests for the identification of this species and we have numerous photos in our archives, but your photo is the only mating image we have received.

Despite the frequency of sightings of Ailanthus Webworms, their presence seems to be doing nothing to control the scourge of the incredibly invasive Ailanthus tree which has been infiltrating natural forests from coast to coast.

We expect that one day it may be the only tree known to mankind.

Letter 2 – Ailanthus Webworm Moth

Strange one that I didn’t come across on the site
Hi there,
Might not be able to get a reply with all the requests, but I found this guy outside the patio door a couple of weeks ago… it was after dark when the weird ones seem to come out (including the stag beetles I see so many times on the site).

Anyways, it was a kind of pretty pattern… almost like little flowers, but it looks like a closed wing, so I can’t tell exactly what it would be. I didn’t look through EVERY page but went through most of the fly and beetle specimens without seeing them.

P93

Hey P93,
You need to look at our moth pages to find the Ailanthus Webworm Moth.

Letter 3 – Ailanthus Webworm Moth

What is it?
After going through all 15 beetle links, I could not find ‘my’ bug. I saw him at the Great Swamp in Basking Ridge NJ. He was about 5/8 – 3/4 inches long. Your site is fascinating.

The only problem I had was that I was eating dinner while scanning for my ‘buddy’ and the grubs didn’t help my appetite.

Thank you,
Susan Hunt

But Susan…
In many parts of the world, edible Beetle Grubs are considered delicacies. Your insect is a moth, not a beetle.

It is an Ailanthus Webworm Moth, a very well-represented species on our site, but your photo is so lovely, we have decided to post it.

Letter 4 – Ailanthus Webworm Moths nectaring

Ed. Note: (09/01/2007)
We received this wonderful image from a reader, but sadly, we cannot locate the accompanying letter. It is such a great photo, we want to post it and we wholeheartedly apologize to the submitter for the lack of credit.

Letter 5 – Ailanthus Webworm Moth

Ailanthus Webworm Moth
Hey Bugman,
I found this beauty on my milkweed plant, and your site has helped me identify it as an Ailanthus webworm moth. … I was wondering if this is where the moth got its name?

Thanks,
Christina
New Lenox, IL

Hi Christina,
We have gotten numerous requests to identify the Ailanthus Webworm lately. Your photo is by far the best and we are thrilled you managed to plow through our archives until you found the correct answer.

Letter 6 – Ailanthus Webworm Moth

Yellow Bug
What is this?

Ailanthus Webworm Moth.

Letter 7 – Ailanthus Webworm Moth

Orange, Yellow, and black iridescent winged mystery bug
Hi Bugman,
I hope you are still identifying bugs. I came across this little guy in Chicago on June 27th, 2007 around 1:30pm, and was able to get him in a jar.

The pattern of colors on its wings is remarkable and I have to admit, I’ve never come across a bug quite like it before. It was probably two centimeters in length.

The jar I kept it in was formerly an applesauce jar and I noticed the creature using its proboscis on some remnants of the fruit. At that point, I decided to put a small but juicy slice of nectarine in the jar with the bug and it turned into a party.

That bug was on that nectarine like flies on …. Well. Any idea what it is? Attached are two photos of the insect. One from the side and one showing its abdomen.

Joseph Greer

Hi Joseph,
This is an Ailanthus Webworm Moth. Its host tree is the Ailanthus or Tree of Heaven, a notorious weed tree introduced from China in the 19th Century that is one of the most invasive exotics our country is currently trying to eliminate.

Letter 8 – BUG OF THE MONTH SEPTEMBER 2009: Ailanthus Webworm

Colorful insect
August 28, 2009
This was hanging out on the inside of my screen door. it’s a little less than an inch in length.
Bobby
Northern Virginia

Ailanthus Webworm Moth
Ailanthus Webworm Moth

Hi Bobby,
We have gotten so many requests to identify the Ailanthus Webworm Moth, Atteva punctella
, in the past two weeks that we have decided to post your letter as our Bug of the Month for September. 

The caterpillars live in communal webs and feed on the leaves of a pestiferous introduced tree known as the Tree of Heaven, Ailanthus altissima. 

This tree has been encroaching upon open areas throughout the United States and is a very difficult species to eradicate. 

Its spread is compromising the habitat of many native tree and plant species because it reproduces readily from seeds and running roots, often creating big stands of trees that eliminate the natural biodiversity in the area. 

The trees have escaped cultivation and are often found in industrial areas and disturbed areas where other trees cannot grow. 

Sadly, the caterpillars feeding on the leaves of the Ailanthus trees do not significantly compromise the health of the tree.  As the Ailanthus trees expand their range, we receive more reports of adult moths. 

According to BugGuide:  “adults fly from March to November” and they are found “From Ontario and New York south to Florida, west to Nebraska and Texas, and south into Mexico.

Letter 9 – Drawing of Ailanthus Webworm Moth

Beetle riding the bus
Location:  Essex County, Ontario
July 24, 2010 1:44 pm
Hi there,
I encountered an unusual-looking beetle yesterday while riding the bus. It was narrow and about an inch long, and the elytra was a yellowish-orange.

It lifted these once or twice during the ride to fly against the window, so I know it also had functional wings.

What I found really interesting though was the pattern of spots; they looked like little white flowers. Didn’t have a camera at the time, so I’ve included a drawing of what the elytra roughly looked like.

Thanks!
John

Artist’s rendition of Ailanthus Webworm Moth

try looking at Ivory Marked Beetle photos.

Hi Daniel,
Thanks for the quick reply.
I looked at the photos for the ivory-marked beetle on bugguide
(http://bugguide.net/node/view/2873/bgimage), and it doesn’t appear to be a match at all. The spots were definitely 4-clusters, and the color of its back was yellow-orange instead of brown in those pictures.

If I come across a good match I’ll reply with a link.

Update:  August 2, 2010
Hello, again Daniel,
Checking back on your site, I see other readers have requested the same bug. What I saw was the Ailanthus Webworm Moth.
Thanks for your help.

Hi, again John,
In retrospect, that makes sense.  We limited our identifications to beetles and did not even consider you might have seen a moth. 

We are posting our email exchange along with a photo of an Ailanthus Webworm Moth submitted recently for comparison to your drawing.

Letter 10 – Fanmail: Ailanthus Tree Comment

Ed. Note: We just posted an image of an Ailanthus Webworm and we have been getting some interesting comments on the host tree, the Tree of Heaven.  Here is a nice piece of fan mail.

Ailanthus comment
Ailanthus trees are nasty and they smell bad.
September 27, 2010 10:36 am
Hi,
I check out your website every day and I love it a lot, and I couldn’t do without it. When you go to your Mom’s house in Ohio every year, I go into withdrawal until you get back. I just have to have my WTB fixed.

Just a quick comment on those nasty trees in the picture.
When I lived in Detroit, they grow all over the place, in the alleys, etc.
They smell bad.

My friends and neighbors and I always referred to them as sewer trees because of their odor. They’re hard to get rid of. They have an extensive root system and unless you dig them up, you can’t get rid of them.

Even when they’re small and they’re not much bigger than toothpicks, they have one heck of a root system.

Hopefully, an insect will appear that would take care of that scourge, and save people a lot of time and trouble trying to dispose of them.
Thanks
Regards,
Signature: Sueann Juzwiak

Letter 11 – Mating Ailanthus Webworm Moths

Subject: the storm bug
Location: Reisterstown, Maryland
July 3, 2012 8:54 am
Hello,
The storm this weekend (6/30/2012) left me this visitor(s) on the side of my house. it/they moved over to the right when I sprayed the siding on Sunday but haven’t moved since. I took this picture this morning 7/3/2012.
Thanks,
Signature: Cynthia Miles

Mating Ailanthus Webworm Moths

Hi Cynthia,
These little mating beauties are Ailanthus Webworm Moths, one of the few insects known to feed on the noxious introduced Tree of Heaven.

Letter 12 – Mating Ailanthus Webworm Moths

Subject: Can’t figure out the bug!
Location: South Jersey
July 12, 2017, 12:59 pm
Dear Bugman,
My son and I found this bug in Haddonfield, NJ on our door. What is it?
Signature: Jess and Liam

Mating Ailanthus Webworm Moths

Dear Jess and Liam,
These are mating Ailanthus Webworm Moths, a native species that has adapted to feeding on the invasive, exotic, noxious weed tree known as the Tree of Heaven.

Letter 13 – Ailanthus Webworm Moth

Subject:  Never seen one of these before
Geographic location of the bug:  Wichita Kansas
Date: 09/02/2021
Time: 02:09 PM EDT
Your letter to the bugman:  I have never seen one of these around here before can you enlighten me on what it might be
How you want your letter signed:  Ricky barber

Ailanthus Webworm Moth

Dear Ricky,
This is an Ailanthus Webworm Moth, one of the few insects that will feed on the noxious, invasive Tree of Heaven.

Letter 14 – Ailanthus Webworm Moth

Subject:  mystery bug
Geographic location of the bug:  coastal Connecticut, USA
Date: 09/19/2021
Time: 09:19 PM EDT
Your letter to the Bugman:  Please help me identify this beautiful winged insect. It was resting on the wall of a beach locker room in Riverside, CT in August.
How you want your letter signed:  Gideon

Ailanthus Webworm Moth

Dear Gideon,
This pretty Ermine Moth is an Ailanthus Webworm Moth, a native species whose caterpillars have adapted to feeding on the leaves of the invasive Tree of Heaven.

Letter 15 – Ailanthus Webworm Moth

Orange and white spotted insect
Location:  Austin, Texas
September 26, 2010 9:11 pm
Hoping you could identify this one for me…information online seems very scarce.
Signature:  ESP.

Ailanthus Webworm

Dear ESP,
Your moth is a native species of Ermine Moth that has gotten the common name of Ailanthus Webworm.  The interesting thing about that is that the Ailanthus is not native and it might be the most dangerous weed tree in North America. 

The Ailanthus can survive in all types of climates and conditions from deserts to snow to swamps.  Sadly, the Ailanthus Webworm feeds on the leaves and that will not kill the tree. 

We need to find a native borer that will feed on the wood, preferably the roots, of this scourge tree. 

We have gotten more requests to identify the Ailanthus Webworm this year than ever before and we suspect its numbers are increasing as its introduced host tree can be found coast to coast and border to border.

I noticed you have a lot of requests for this one…sorry to add myself to
the populous! Thanks…ESP.

No problem.  It allowed us to continue to pontificate on the pest tree that is commonly called the Tree of Heaven.

Trees of Heaven

Ailanthus comment
Ailanthus trees are nasty and they smell bad.
September 27, 2010 10:36 am
Hi,
I check out your website every day and I love it a lot, and I couldn’t do without it. When you go to your Mom’s house in Ohio every year, I go into withdrawal until you get back. I just have to have my WTB fixed.

Just a quick comment on those nasty trees in the picture. When I lived in Detroit, they grow all over the place, in the alleys, etc. They smell bad. My friends and neighbors and I always referred to them as sewer trees because of their odor.

They’re hard to get rid of. They have an extensive root system and unless you dig them up, you can’t get rid of them. Even when they’re small and they’re not much bigger than toothpicks, they have one heck of a root system.

Hopefully, an insect will appear that would take care of that scourge, and save people a lot of time and trouble trying to dispose of them.

Thanks
Regards,
Signature: Sueann Juzwiak

Letter 16 – Ailanthus Webworm Moth

Subject: What beetle is this
Location: Northeast Ohio
August 14, 2012 1:47 pm
I think he is the coolest beetle I have ever seen, but can’t seem to pinpoint what he is. I named him a friend and he only visits me at night. He is orange with yellow spots circled by black.
Signature: Jessie

Ailanthus Webworm Moth

Hi Jessie,
Most folks who request the identification of this insect believe it to be a beetle when it is actually a Moth.  The Ailanthus Webworm Moth is a native species that has adapted to having its larvae feed on the leaves of the noxious weed tree, the Ailanthus or Tree of Heaven (see MWHA.US).  Sadly, the moth does not do enough damage to curb the population of this scourge tree.

Letter 17 – Ailanthus Webworm Moth

What’s this beauty?
Hello, WTB! My name is Emily, I’m 16, and I’ve just found your site. I’ve been wondering for a while, what kind of bug is this? I can only assume it’s a kind of beetle, but I’m not sure.

It’s sitting on some sedum flowers, just to give you an idea of the size, and it was kind of metallic. I’m hoping it’s a new species, but I’m not going to bet any money on it :).

I took this picture around the same time that the honeybees were active because one stung me after I took this. Hope you can tell me its name!
Emily

Hi Emily,
This is an Ailanthus Webworm Moth, Atteva punctella. This tiny moth ranges from Southern New England to the Gulf States.

Letter 18 – Ailanthus Webworm Moth

Repeat Visitor on my Door
Location:  Chicago, IL
July 25, 2010 7:10 pm
Hello,
I saw this species of bug about two years also in my doorway. It’s very colorful, so much so that I would like your help identifying it.
Andrew

Ailanthus Webworm Moth

Hi Andrew,
We must have answered 10 requests to have an Ailanthus Webworm Moth identified in the past week, so we are posting your photo so our readers can identify this pretty little Ermine Moth.

Letter 19 – Ailanthus Webworm Moth

Orange bug with iridescent spots
Location:  Chicago Suburbs, IL
July 29, 2010, 10:39 pm
Hello, and thank you for this site. I check it often to try and ID a strange bug I come across. We found this guy on our fence. Then a few nights later, he was on our siding. We live in the Chicago suburbs, IL, and he was found in the summer. Thanks!
April

Ailanthus Webworm Moth

Hi April,
We have been getting more requests for the identification of your creature, the Ailanthus Webworm Moth, each year.  We find it interesting that the moth is native, but the primary food source, the Tree of Heaven or Ailanthus is not. 

Here is what BugGuide reports:  “Larvae live in communal webs (3). One generation a year (4).

The main larval food plant (Ailanthus altissima) is also known as Tree of Heaven, Stinking Sumac, Copal Tree, or Varnish Tree, and occurs throughout most of United States and southern Canada, often planted as an ornamental in urban areas.

The tree is native to Asia, and is an invasive species in North America, but the moth is native, and its range has increased, presumably, since the introduction of the tree.

Letter 20 – Numerous Recent Reports: Ailanthus Webworm Moth

Bug on Curravasica milkweed
Location:  Western PA Greensburg area
August 10, 2010 9:30 pm
I grow this plant to attract monarchs. They love this milkweed. I have had a lot of missing-in-action caterpillars this year. Have found many assassin bugs so that may be an issue. What do you think this creature is?
Joyce P.

Ailanthus Webworm Moth

Hi Joyce,
This is an Ailanthus Webworm Moth, and it seems we get several identification requests for it each day.  It is a native species, but it is named for the noxious, invasive, exotic weed tree, the Ailanthus or Tree of Heaven. 

The adopted food plant is readily available, so the Ailanthus Webworm Moth is becoming more plentiful.  Sadly, no matter how many leaves the caterpillars consume, there is no chance of the Ailanthus being eradicated.

Letter 21 – Ailanthus Webworm Moth

What’s this beautiful bug?? Found in Chicago
Location:  Chicago, IL
September 6, 2010 2:04 pm
We found this beautiful bug on a fence in Chicago on September 5, 2010. We searched the site but couldn’t find it. Any idea what it is?
Signature:  Brian from Chicago

Ailanthus Webworm Moth

Hi Brian,
It seems every day we get at least one request to identify the Ailanthus Webworm Moth,
Atteva punctella, and we probably should have made it the Bug of the Month for September. 

Your photo is quite detailed and we are going to post it in the feature section of postings that scroll across the top of our webpage in the hopes that new visitors will be able to self-identify if that is the subject of their query.

Letter 22 – Ailanthus Webworm Moth identification request spawns homework controversy

UPDATE:  We apologize
Dear Kim,
We apologize for getting off on the wrong foot with you, and we confess that we really
did enjoy the verbal sparring just a little too much to sever our ties with you forever. 

We fully understand your concern with allowing children to have access to the internet because of all the adult content.  As a peace offering, we would like to offer your son a good research project to accompany his insect collection. 

Knowing the identity of an insect might be the requirement, but doing an informative ecologically inspired paper just might earn some bonus points. 

The Ailanthus Webworm Moth is alleged to be native, yet its food plant is a noxious introduced weed tree, ironically known as the Tree of Heaven, Ailanthus altissima.  The Tree of Heaven is recognized nationally as a major threat to native ecosystems. 

It thrives in all climates from arid to wet and from tropical to cold and occasionally freezing. 

We seem to remember hearing once that the range of the Ailanthus Webworm Moth has spread from Florida to a major portion of the U.S., though we might be wrong on that point. 

BugGuide has awesome distribution maps like this Ailanthus Webworm map.


P.S.
We also have some strong views on insect collections as decorations, though we cannot deny their value as scientific research and learning tools.

And now, … The Homework Controversy
What kind of bug is this
Location: Burlington, North Carolina
April 10, 2011 7:48 pm
Good day folks,
My son is doing a project for his 4th-grade science project. We are having trouble identifying this bug. I’ve looked in so many books and can’t find it. Can you help me?
Signature: Kim

Ailanthus Webworm Moth

Hi Kim,
We just finished sending you a quick response, and in hindsight, we decided to elaborate a bit and create a posting for your email. 

Typically, we refrain from responding to the desperate pleas we receive from college students, high school students, and the parents of grade school students needing numerous specimens identified immediately for an insect collection class project that is due in the imminent future. 

The most popular posting on our site continues to be “What’s That Bug? will not do your child’s homework“. 

Your email indicated that you have been attempting to ID this creature, and since there was only one requested ID, we lightened up on our stance. This is an Ailanthus Webworm Moth and there are close to 100 images of this insect on our website.

Ed. Note: Here is our original “rude” response to Kim: Though we frown on doing homework, your letter indicates that you have been searching for a name.  This is an Ailanthus Webworm Moth.

Thank you for your response.  I will surely not bother you again.  If you ‘frown upon’ what you call “doing children’s homework” and answering these questions, then you shouldn’t allow a contact form for people TO ask the question.

When a parent or student (no matter what age he or she is) looks for something and you are a resource then you shouldn’t be replying in such a rude manner.  This is NOT at all professional.

I had three more bugs to ID and cannot find them on your website or any other website for that matter.

It is very frustrating for someone who is NOT an entomologist to look through hundreds of resources and references and come up empty.  Those of us who seek your professional assistance should not be answered with such rudeness.

I was going to make a substantial donation but because of your rude reply, I will not.  I will also be telling the other mothers in my son’s class NOT to seek out your assistance since it is such a bother for you.

I do appreciate the ID of this bug, thank you once again for your reply.

Kim,
With all due respect, we did not consider our response to be rude.  If that is your interpretation, you are more than entitled to have an opinion, just as you are free to choose not to ever again visit our website. 

We thought we clarified our stance a bit with our second response to you.  For the record, there are no entomologists on our staff, nor does anyone on our staff have even the slightest background in entomology. 

Research is research, and taking a science class should encourage research rather than demand correct answers. 

We cannot speak for your child’s instructor, but we imagine that merely attempting to find a correct answer is a valuable skill that all students need to learn. 

That is a far greater benefit than having someone else, be it a parent or an online consultant, provide a correct identification for a child.  It is interesting that you write:  “I had three more bugs to ID and cannot find them on your website or any other website for that matter.” 

We thought this was your child’s homework assignment.  It is also interesting to us to learn that you will be telling the other mothers in your son’s class not to seek out our assistance. 

Thanks for passing on that information because ethically, as college instructors, we continue to have major issues with the ownership of intellectual property.  At the end of the day, taking credit for work done by someone else, even a well-intentioned parent, is cheating. 

We can’t help but wonder how the fourth-grade students at your son’s school will benefit by having all of the mothers doing internet research. 

At least the mothers will be learning something, perhaps even the things they didn’t learn in school because their own parents did their homework for them.  Will you also be taking your child’s standardized tests?

There are other sites and other sources of reference from which we have been able to seek out and get our answers.  You’re not the “only game in town” and you certainly don’t have such a great site.

The other parents and I have found several other sites for our children to utilize.  We have all been able to find the bug identifications that we needed.

You shouldn’t assume that you would be doing a “child’s homework assignment” or that the child is cheating.  Learning how to answer questions with respect and tact is something you learn as you grow, perhaps you haven’t learned that yet.

Being a college professor you should have learned that lesson by now.
There was no ‘second e-mail’, but perhaps you should have contemplated an answer before hitting send.

It’s not right for you to assume that a child is cheating when a parent is merely HELPING their child when they are having trouble.  My child is an A student and has never once cheated a day in his life.

He is in no way taking credit for the work that I am doing for him because I am not doing the work for him.  Cheating is cheating, but parental help is something entirely different.

The parents of my son’s school HELP their children with all research if it’s needed.  We closely monitor when our children do research on the internet.  Even WITH child filters on there’s a chance of something getting through.

If you are college professors you should be aware of how you are answering questions. Just because you’re a college professor doesn’t mean you know it all.  I guess it’s true what they say about the smarter people not always having the most common sense.

I feel for the students that you teach!!  Hopefully, they have common sense and have already learned how to answer questions with respect, tact and not assume things about people.

You’ve got a lot to learn about being respectful towards people.  You are not mightier because you are a professor, remember that!!  And as far as Standardized testing, he’s already taken it and is at the TOP of his class!!!!

Thank you again for your answer.  We will not be bothering you again.

A Reader Comments
I was just reading this conversation on your site and found it very interesting. I am about to graduate with my master’s in library and information studies, and also have four children, three of whom are still in primary education.

I do bemoan the information literacy (or lack thereof) of kids these days, including my own, though I try to help them learn how to search and vet what they find.

You are right when you say that kids often don’t have any idea how to search the Internet for good information and they NEED to learn how to do this. I applaud you for this wonderful site, especially considering your non-entomological background.

I also love how you’ve broken out the left-hand index into further facets. It can be very difficult to search this particular kind of site because of the difficulty in indexing things that many users don’t even know how to “name” – either Latin or common.

I have to say I understand the parent’s frustration in helping a fourth grader try to find information on the Internet. If you leave it totally up to them, they often end up very frustrated.

I have had to find a list of sites for my kids to use, just to narrow the field, of course explaining how I found and then chose those sites and why they are reliable sources of information.

It is a learning experience and you have to sometimes hold their hand all the way down to the “item” level, especially at age 9 or 10.

Time doesn’t always allow this (It’s due tomorrow and I haven’t started – time management lecture instead of info lecture here!).

We don’t just let them flounder all over the Web and we help them when we can and hope they learn how to do it on their own next time.

Again, “bugs” can be hard for us to find and ID online as we don’t even know how to name them or classify them into some sort of group to get going, so I have to say I understand a parent finally just drilling into your site to figure out what they heck they have.

Sorry for going on so long here, but it’s a fascinating topic. I love your website (used it as a model in one of my info studies classes) and thank you for all your hard work in making these resources available to the public.

Users often don’t understand the work required to keep up a site like this and since you are providing it, they expect that you have to provide it, that you have a duty to provide it, even if it’s just something you love and there is no compulsion beyond that for continuing.

I sense this is a labor of love rather than a means to that lovely vacation home or comfy retirement (ha!) and I recommend it to anyone and everyone I can.

That’s it – I love bugs and am fascinated by them if not sometimes a tiny bit freaked out by them. It’s a shame if that person disparages your site to other parents. It’s a fantastic source of information.

From the librarian’s point of view, have you ever considered adding any social interaction to the site, like tagging or commenting on posts?

Any other sort of facets to make searching easier, like by colors, sizes, etc. – only in addition to what you already have set up. Don’t you love this kind of inquiry? Like you have the time to do this.

But it’s such an awesome agglomeration of good information. Making it more searchable would open up the content even more.

Thanks for reading this far, if indeed you have.
Ann Graf

Hi Ann,
Thanks for your comment, which alas we are unable to address fully at the moment since we need to leave for work.  We do have a comment option on posts and our search engine works magnificently. 

Our tiny staff frequently uses our own site to locate previous postings of certain insects and that would be impossible in our vast and confusing archives were it not for the search engine.


P.S.  We are also a bit sad that Kim hasn’t written back to accept our apology.

Letter 23 – Ailanthus Webworm Moth

Bug dressed in 70s attire?
Location: Michigan
July 30, 2011, 3:46 pm
Hiked the field with my son this morning in search of monarch eggs.. no luck. But did find this beautiful bug on the queen’s anne lace! His colors remind me of the mod clothes from the 70s.. bold flowers that fit his environment!

Question is? What is his name? Any help you can give is appreciated!

Signature: buggy in Michigan

Ailanthus Webworm Moth

Dear buggy in Michigan,
We keep hoping the Ailanthus Webworm Moth will eat all the Ailanthus trees, an invasive exotic species, but alas, the trees persist.

Letter 24 – Ailanthus Webworm Moth

Subject: colorful moth?
Location: Maumee, Ohio
October 1, 2012, 8:27 pm
I went outside about 10 pm and found this moth (I think) flying around the porch light. I have never seen one like it. can you help me out?? Thanks!
Signature: Jake

Ailanthus Webworm Moth

Hi Jake,
This pretty little moth is an Ailanthus Webworm Moth.

Letter 25 – Ailanthus Webworm Moth

orange and white bug
This little buggy has been in our kitchen for about a week now. He never moves in front of us , but every day when we wake up, he has crawled about 3 or four feet along the wall. We are located in Bowling Green, Ohio 43402.
Thanks!

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is ailanthus_webworm.jpg

Last year at this time we got many inquiries about the Ailanthus Webworm Moth, Atteva punctella.

Letter 26 – Ailanthus Webworm Moth

bug with yellow flowers on and orange body
Hello,
I was out in our woods and my colleague found this bug on a shagbark hickory. It’s a beautiful bug that looks like it has painted on yellow flowers on a orange body.

Quite the flower-child bug. It’s about an inch long. Would love to know what it is…will do some research. Hope you like the picture.
Sadia
P.S. Your site is always useful for bug id and definitely the best site with good photos.

yellow flowers on orange bug is from Mississauga, Ontario…oops
Hi again,
Should have let you know in the first email and it was sunning itself about 10ft up. Regards,
Sadia

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is ailanthus_webworm_sadia.jpg

Hi Sadia,
You have such a poetic description of an Ailanthus Webworm Moth.

Letter 27 – Ailanthus Webworm Moth

What’s This Bug
Bugman,
I can’t find this it any of my insect books or searching internet with description. It’s about 3/4″ long and no more than 3/16″ wide. I shot it at night, near my porch light. Can you help me out? Thanks.
Robert Zimlich

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is ailanthus_robert.jpg

Hi Robert,
This little moth is known as an Ailanthus Webworm Moth, Atteva punctella, one of the Ermine Moths. We are curious about the national origin of this moth since its common host plant is a pest tree native to China. We located this information on the TrekNature site:

“There is some uncertainty about the origin of the Ailanthus webworm, but it is thought to be native to South Florida and the American tropics, with the original larval host plant, the Paradise Tree (Simarouba glauca). Tree-of-Heaven (Ailanthus altissima), a tree originally from China, has been widely introduced and Atteva punctella has jumped to this new host plant (giving it its common name, Ailanthus webworm).”

In our opinion, the Ailanthus Tree or Tree of Heaven is one of the biggest threats to sensitive native forests in the U.S., and we wish that the Ailanthus Webworm posed more of a threat to the survival of the tree.

If only biological agents could be imported that would target the seeds and roots of the Ailanthus Tree and not pose a threat to any native species, we might be rid of the scurge.

Letter 28 – Ailanthus Webworm Moth

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is ailanthus_webworm_kerri-300x239.jpg

red beetle with white flower-like spots
August 20, 2009
I found this beauty on a table on my side porch. I live in the woods next to a reservoir in northern NJ. Any idea what this is?
Kerri
Boonton, NJ

Ailanthis Webworm Moth
Ailanthis Webworm Moth

Hi Kerri,
The caterpillar of the Ailanthus Webworm Moth, Atteva punctella eats the leaves of the dreaded Tree of Heaven, Ailanthus altissima.  This noxious weed tree, a native of China, is invading native forest land from coast to coast. 

It has long been a fixture in cities especially in areas of urban blight where it thrives.  It is the tree from  A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, the novel by Betty Smith.  Sadly the Ailanthus Webworm only eats the leaves of the tree and this does no lasting damage. 

We would live to find an insect that bores into the trunks or roots and destroys the plant.  We believe the Ailanthus Tree might be the most dangerous invasive exotic plant to the native North American ecosystem. 

Once it becomes established, it takes over, crowding out all other species.  You photo is quite beautiful.

Letter 29 – Ailanthus Webworm Moth on Goldenrod

Almost artful display
August 24, 2009
Me and my wife were on the way to the hospital to get some metal stitches pulled from me tummy from a hernia surgery, and seeing as we had the nikon tagging along with us in the backpack, decided to go by the fountain situated in front of BLDG 2 at the Bill Hefner VA Hospital in Salisbury, NC.

We truly couldn’t have come at a better time as as soon as we arrived there was also a pair of grasshoppers prolonging the species as it were. I almost thought it necessary to recommend a hotel, LOL!

I will be probably be adding another post here since I truly don’t know where this other insect I found falls into the category. Several Butterflies (Swallowtails and others) were showing off before us along with the random wood boring bee.


This insect is approximately 9/16″ to 5/8″ in length and was kinda slow in moving selectively extracting pollen, and almost playing dead when we got too close. It has some markings that almost look as if someone had attempted to paint small flowers on each side…

Absolutely stunning when you can zoom in. Let me know what this litter bugger is, me and my wife are dying to know!!!
Amateur Photographer, Can you tell?
VA Hospital, Salisbury, NC Next to waterfall

Ailanthus Webworm Moth
Ailanthus Webworm Moth

Dear Amateur Photographer,
This moth is known as an Ailanthus Webworm, but sadly, it only eats the leaves of the Ailanthus, or Tree of Heaven, and it doesn’t do much to remove this scourge from North America.

Letter 30 – Ailanthus Webworm Moth

insect getting nector on flowers
July 12, 2010
It is 3/4 in long ,1/4 in wide, found in flower garden drawing nector. Appears not to have wings, but if so they are tightly drawn to body.
Dee Boesen
Southern Missouri U.S.A.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is ailanthus_webworm_dee-300x189.jpg
Ailanthus Webworm Moth

Hi Dee,
We have gotten a few requests in the past weeks for your creature, the Ailanthus Webworm Moth,
Atteva punctella, but we did not post any of them because the images were blurry.  Your excellent photo should help other readers identify this species.

Thank you Daniel.  You have answered my question after a long search on the internet. I love your site and will recommend it to everyone as I have done so in our local paper. Much appreciated.  Dee Boesen

Letter 31 – Ailanthus Webworm

Subject: Weird bug
Location: Pennsylvania
July 20, 2014 12:02 pm
Found this bug on my house in northeast Pennsylvania in the summertime. Any idea what it may be?
Signature: Shannon

Ailanthus Webworm
Ailanthus Webworm

Dear Shannon,
This pretty native Ermine Moth is commonly called an Ailanthus Webworm.  It is one of the few insects known to feed on the invasive, exotic Tree of Heaven,
Ailanthus altissimus, which is recognized on the government website Weeds Gone Wild as being a major threat with this statement: 

“Tree of heaven is reported to be invasive in natural areas in 30 states across continental U.S. and Hawaii. It is highly adaptable to disturbance and a huge range of soil types and conditions, grows best in full sun and is tolerant of drought.  Ecological Threat 

A common tree in urban areas where it causes damage to sewers and structures, ailanthus poses a greater threat to agriculture and natural ecosystems. It is a vigorous growing tree and prolific seeder that establishes dense stands that push out natives.

Tree of heaven contains chemicals, including ailanthone, that have been found to have strong allelopathic (herbicidal) affects on the growth of other plants which help it establish and spread.” 

Though the native Ailanthus Webworm has adapted to feeding on an invasive plant, it is doubtful that the Ailanthus Webworm will have much of an impact on controlling the spread of the scourge.

Letter 32 – Ailanthus Webworm

Subject: What is this???
Location: South jersey
August 16, 2014 9:00 pm
Never saw this thing before…
Signature: Rob

Ailanthus Webworm
Ailanthus Webworm

Hi Rob,
This is a moth known as an Ailanthus Webworm.

Letter 33 – Ailanthus Webworm

Subject: unknown insect
Location: Conway, SC
November 4, 2014 6:24 am
Curious as to what insect this is. I discovered it in my meyer lemon tree in Conway, SC.
Signature: ?

Ailanthus Webworm
Ailanthus Webworm

Dear ?,
This is a moth known as an Ailanthus Webworm Moth, and though it is an Ermine Moth native to North America, it has adapted to feeding on the leaves of the invasive, exotic Tree of Heaven while in the caterpillar stage. 

This Ailanthus Webworm poses no threat to your Meyer lemon tree, and it might even assist in pollination, though we believe Honey Bees do a good job in that process.

Thank you so much! Your knowledge and fast response is greatly appreciated. Thank you again,
Jim Sambroak

Letter 34 – Ailanthus Webworm

Subject: A bug with a mosaic back
Location: Northwest
May 11, 2015 4:03 am
This was an interesting bug I found last night in my bedroom I live in Indiana and it is in its 80s right now and very humid.
Signature: Savannah

Ailanthus Webworm
Ailanthus Webworm

Dear Savannah,
This pretty little moth is an Ailanthus Webworm.  The caterpillars of this native species have adapted to feeding on the leaves of the invasive, introduced Tree of Heaven,
Ailanthus altissima.

Authors

  • Bugman

    Bugman aka Daniel Marlos has been identifying bugs since 1999. whatsthatbug.com is his passion project and it has helped millions of readers identify the bug that has been bugging them for over two decades. You can reach out to him through our Contact Page.

    View all posts
  • Piyushi Dhir

    Piyushi is a nature lover, blogger and traveler at heart. She lives in beautiful Canada with her family. Piyushi is an animal lover and loves to write about all creatures.

    View all posts
Tags: Ailanthus Webworm Moth

Related Posts

13 Comments. Leave new

  • Tree of Heaven is a scourge upon the country. No matter how many times I cut them down or dig up these invasive little (expletive) plants they come back. Plus, they grow, well, like weeds. Plus they stink….blech. One would think a good northern Indiana winter would kill em but alas, they come back like a bad rash.

    Reply
  • “The lady doth protest too much, methinks.”

    Reply
    • We decided to just concede and not to push the issue any further. Seems we really struck a nerve by merely frowning upon doing homework, and we even provided an elusive identification.

      Reply
  • For insect identification in one of my horticulture classes, I found North American insect field guides much more helpful than browsing the internet. I own one, but I’m sure it would be just as easy to go to the library or any bookstore around and peruse some of the books they have. Instead of lugging around bugs, you could take photos of the ones you can identify to take with you. Just view it on the LCD of you camera.

    Going to the library is also a great activity for children, especially when it research is involved. Though everyone loves the convenience of the internet, libraries (and bookstores even) are still essential to the research process. I personally use both.

    On a project like this, I imagine opening a book at a library or store and letting a kid thumb through a bunch of color photos of insects and finding theirs would be really exciting and interactive instead of having to be nannied on a computer. I’ve heard a saying that the internet is like an infinite pool that is 2 inches deep–sometimes it’s so vast in information that it’s hard to delve deep enough to find what you’re looking for. Kids do need to learn how to use it as a research tool, but as I said… for this particular project, books were easier for me as a college student.

    Besides, I have great childhood memories of going to the library.

    Reply
    • Thanks for this very thoughtful comment.

      Reply
    • I agree with you on many counts! I’m a mom and a teacher – and there are so many many wonderful books which are just begging to be browsed through… I think, personally, that if you are new to a topic, one of the most wonderful ways to get a good overview is to page through some books. It limits the scope a bit and you just get a feel through the words and especially the pictures. I think this is true for both grown ups and children. Also, as a prelude to learning how to do internet searches, doing library searches is a great way of seeing how information can be sorted and organised, and how you can keep refining your search until you get what you need…
      Finally, living things are organised into specific classes and groups – and using a field guide or an identification guide is a wonderful way to learn about classification in a way that you couldn’t really on the internet.
      And YAY!!! to this website for encouraging kids to find out stuff for themselves!

      Reply
    • I agree with you on many counts! I’m a mom and a teacher – and there are so many many wonderful books which are just begging to be browsed through… I think, personally, that if you are new to a topic, one of the most wonderful ways to get a good overview is to page through some books. It limits the scope a bit and you just get a feel through the words and especially the pictures. I think this is true for both grown ups and children. Also, as a prelude to learning how to do internet searches, doing library searches is a great way of seeing how information can be sorted and organised, and how you can keep refining your search until you get what you need…
      Finally, living things are organised into specific classes and groups – and using a field guide or an identification guide is a wonderful way to learn about classification in a way that you couldn’t really on the internet.
      And YAY!!! to this website for encouraging kids to find out stuff for themselves!

      Reply
  • we have one in the house my friend named him Tangerine 🙂

    Reply
  • but he’s cooler than all of yours hahaha…..and yes, i am an adult and i say what i want. WHAT??!!??!! *bucks at audience”

    Reply
  • Krystal?! you think your moth is better then mine BROTHER!!! oh thats right its the same one lol Tangerine for life!!! shazam…

    Reply
  • Just seen one of these flying in my kitchen. I live in Michigan, and I have never seen one like this before. Glad I could identify it. Thanks!

    Reply
  • Just found one in Dayton, OH, hanging out on our bathroom window at midnight. Beautiful markings! Thought it was a beetle until it took flight.

    Reply
  • Mary McCormack
    July 20, 2015 4:35 pm

    I saw one of these today in Elyria Ohio 44035, I saw one a few years back as well.

    Reply

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