Eight Spotted Forester: Quick Guide to These Unique Moths

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The Eight-Spotted Forester is a small, flashy day-flying moth often mistaken for a butterfly when nectaring on flowers. These unique creatures boast a striking appearance, with a black-winged coloration and contrasting pale yellow spots on the forewings, and white spots on the hindwings. Their captivating looks and fast, darting flight make them a fascinating species for anyone interested in the world of moths and butterflies.

Their larval stage, known as the Eight-Spotted Forester caterpillar, features a body with black, white, and orange rings. These caterpillars convert into the stunning black adult moths with yellow and black spots. Most commonly found in spring, particularly April, these moths are native to Texas and other parts of the United States.

Primarily residing by forest edges and sunny spots, as well as vine-covered buildings, Eight-Spotted Forester caterpillars feed on leaves of plants in the grape family. These include wild and domestic grapes, woodbine/Virginia Creeper, peppervine, porcelain berry, and false grape. This versatile diet allows them to thrive in various habitats, further expanding their range and influence in the ecosystems they inhabit.

Description and Identification

Color and Appearance

The Eight-Spotted Forester (Alypia octomaculata) is a small, flashy moth often mistaken for a butterfly. Its distinctive features include:

  • A mostly black body
  • Bright orange hairs on the front and middle pairs of legs
  • Yellow spots on the forewings
  • White spots on the hindwings

This unique combination of colors contributes to its eye-catching appearance, making it easier to identify in the wild or when nectaring on flowers.

Size and Wingspan

The Eight-Spotted Forester moth is relatively small in size compared to other moths. Its wingspan typically ranges between 30-40 mm.

Feature Butterfly Eight-Spotted Forester Moth
Antennae Slender Thickened at the tips
Daytime flying
Drinking from flowers
Flight pattern Fluttering Fast and darting

As shown in the table above, the Eight-Spotted Forester shares several characteristics with butterflies, which explains why it is commonly mistaken for one. However, a key differentiator is the moth’s antennae, which are thickened at the tips, as opposed to the slender antennae of butterflies.

Life Cycle and Behavior

Eggs and Larvae

The Eight Spotted Forester’s life cycle starts when females lay their eggs. Once hatched, the larvae go through multiple stages of growth. Key features of the larvae stage include:

  • Belonging to the Noctuidae family
  • Also known as owlet moth family

Caterpillars and Feeding Habits

As caterpillars, the Eight Spotted Forester displays specific feeding habits:

  • Feeding primarily on grapevine and Virginia creeper leaves
  • Bright orange patches on black body segments

Pupa and Adult Moths

The life cycle continues with the pupa stage, where larvae transform into adult moths. The adult moths are unique and showcase remarkable characteristics:

  • Butterfly-like appearance and flight behavior
  • Member of the subfamily Agaristinae within Noctuidae family
  • Univoltine, meaning only one generation per year
Eight Spotted Forester Common Butterflies
Day-flying moth Day-flying insects
Slim, simple antennae Knobbed antennae

In summary, the Eight Spotted Forester, a moth within the Noctuidae family, goes through an intriguing life cycle that includes stages as eggs, larvae, caterpillars, and adult moths. With unique feeding habits and appearance, this species stands out as an interesting example within the Lepidoptera order.

Habitat and Distribution

Host Plants and Food Sources

The Eight-spotted Forester Moth (Alypia octomaculata) has caterpillars that feed on various plants found in the grape family. Some common host plants include:

  • Wild Grape (Vitis spp.)
  • Virginia Creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia)
  • Ampelopsis spp.
  • Woodbine
  • Porcelain Berry
  • False Grape

These caterpillars enjoy mostly open and sunny areas such as along forest edges and vine-covered buildings 1. The adult moths can often be found nectaring on wildflowers.

Geographical Range

This flashy, day-flying moth is predominantly found in eastern North America, such as Texas 2. They can be spotted in both wooded areas and open spaces like vineyards. Their distribution extends from the south through the eastern United States and goes as far north as Canada.

Habitat Geographical Range
Woodland edges Eastern North America
Vineyards Texas
Open areas South through Eastern United States

Here are some characteristics of the Eight-spotted Forester Moth:

  • Black body with orange hairs on the front and middle pairs of legs
  • Two pale yellow spots on forewings, two white spots on hindwings
  • Fast and darting flight, often mistaken for a butterfly
  • Males have thicker antennae tips

Interactions with Humans and Environment

Pest Status

Though Eight-Spotted Forester moths are not major pests, their caterpillars feed on plants, especially those in the grape family, such as wild grapes, Virginia creepers, and domestic grapes. Minor damage to vine-covered buildings can result from this behavior. However, this moth species is not considered a significant threat to agricultural production.

Pollination and Nectar Feeding

The adult Eight-Spotted Forester moths have distinctive features, such as:

  • Flying during the day
  • Drinking from flowers
  • Darting flight pattern
  • Antennae thickened at the tips

These characteristics make them similar to butterflies in their feeding habits and role as pollinators. They are observed nectaring on flowers. While drinking nectar, these moths contribute to the pollination process, thus playing a beneficial role in ecosystems.

Comparison Table

Feature Eight-Spotted Forester Moth Typical Butterfly
Time of Activity Daytime Daytime
Body Shape Darting Graceful
Antennae Shape Thickened at the tips Clubbed
Leg Coloration Wide orange bands Various
Functional Mouthparts Present Present

The bright coloration of the Eight-Spotted Forester moths, including the wide orange band on their abdominal area, is similar to the appearance induced by strobe lights. This serves to attract them to flowers where they may drink nectar and pollinate plants. Simultaneously, it is a visual deterrent to predators, reducing the risk of attacks on the moth.

Footnotes

  1. Field Station

  2. Insects in the City

Reader Emails

Over the years, our website, whatsthatbug.com has received hundreds of letters and some interesting images asking us about these insects. Scroll down to have a look at some of them.

Letter 1 – Eight Spotted Forrester

 

What’s this moth?
May 27, 2010
This handsome creature was hanging around our grapevines the other day (May 24, to be exact). It was maybe an inch nose to wingtip, not counting the antennae. Can you tell me what it is? Thanks.
Linda C
Accomack County, VA

Eight Spotted Forrester

Dear Linda,
Your Eight Spotted Forrester really is a beautiful moth. The caterpillars feed on the leaves of a few different vines, including grape.  You can read more about this diurnal Owlet Moth on BugGuide.

Letter 2 – Eight Spotted Forrester

 

Butterfly/Moth
Location: Zwolle, LA
April 4, 2011 7:16 pm
Hello,
Thank you for taking the time to read this. I was camping this past weekend (april 1-2) in Toledo Bend State Park in Zwolle, LA. My 4 yr old daughter coaxed a butterfly (or moth) onto her hand. He stayed there for several minutes which we found unusual and crawled all over her. My friend and I became concerned when we noticed that the butterfly had orange ”pods” on it’s legs. I apologize that the pics are not the best but, the focus of my shots at the time were my daughter. Could you please tell us the species of this butterfly and if we should have been concerned that it was crawling on her? Thank you again.
Signature: Thank you, Meghan

Eight Spotted Forrester

Hi Meghan,
The diurnal moth, and Eight Spotted Forrester, will not harm your daughter.

Daniel,
Thank you so much for responding to me.  I had no idea that a website like yours existed.  I have learned a great deal, just in the reading I did yesterday.  I find that I am going to have to revise my bug rules.  The rule I have taught my daughter is that under no circumstances is she to kill a bug outside…that is their home.  Unfortunately, inside our home, all bets were off.  I have learned that quite a few bugs are very useful and from now on, I will make every attempt to relocate any bugs outside.  Just so you know, this moth did not become unnecessary carnage, although we were admittedly freaked out by it’s legs.  We coaxed it onto a branch and gently laid the branch on the ground (away from rambunctious kids).
Thanks again for your time,
Meghan

Letter 3 – Eight Spotted Forrester

 

Subject: New to us critter
Location: Reston, Virginia
May 17, 2015 7:42 pm
While visiting family in Reston, Virginia, on Mothers Day 2015, we spotted this on the patio door. None of us had seen anything like it before, but knew we could count on WTB to enlighten us. Many thanks in advance.
Signature: Curious

Eight Spotted Forrester
Eight Spotted Forrester

Dear Curious,
This through the glass view provides a very interesting perspective on the Eight Spotted Forrester,
Alypia octomaculata, a diurnal Owlet Moth.  MOBugs has a very nice narrative on the Eight Spotted Forrester.

Letter 4 – Eight Spotted Forrester and Red Spotted Purple

 

Eight Spotted Forrester Photos
Greetings!
I found this moth flying in our home in northwest Florida and waited for it to land on a surface I could photograph — two days later, it finally did! I couldn’t ID it with our reference materials, so I searched the ‘net and found your website…very cool! Since you indicate that there are few photos of these beauties, you are welcome to post them–but please do not remove the photo credit ( © Lynne Shelfer) . Besides finding a useful resource, I was excited to learn that Lisa Anne and Daniel are from my home in SoCal (relocated about 10 years ago but return frequently). I have family, friends and former colleagues who are alumni from Art Center, LACC and SC.
Cheers,
L. Shelfer

P.S. I also included photos of a butterfly which I can’t ID. From a pix on your site, it resembles the Red Spotted Purple. Please confirm or correct. Thanks!

Hi Lynne,
You are correct on both of your identifications. Coincidentally, a day after your letter, we received another image of an Eight Spotted Forrester, but we have been so busy with work this week, we are a bit behind in both posting and answering letters. Your Red Spotted Purple photos are quite spectacular. We had a bit of a problem removing all of your images from the word document where you included the copyright information, so we had to go to the image file you enclosed. We do reduce the size of all images on our site to 72 dpi so if someone “steals” an image, it will not be of a very high quality. Since we post images with letters, and your name is in print, anyone who sees the image will know that you are the author.

Letter 5 – Eight Spotted Forrester Caterpillar

 

Phalaenoides glycinae?
Greetings! This past weekend, I found two of these caterpillars munching on my backyard grapevine leaves. I captured them and took them inside to observe. When I returned from running errands, both had escaped from captivity and where toodling around on the kitchen floor! So, back outside they went to fend for themselves… I have looked at all 9 (!) of the caterpillar pages on your WONDERFUL site to no avail! The closest match I could find on the internet is the Grapevine Moth, Phalaenoides glycinae, from Australia. But I don’t live anywhere near Oz, we are about 40 miles north of Philadelphia, PA. Any ideas? I have attached 2 photos, a side view and a top view, I hope they are satisfactory for a positive ID!! Thanks for maintaining such a cool site!!
Laura

Hi Laura,
This looks to us like the caterpillar of the Eight Spotted Forrester Moth, Alypia octomaculata. According to BugGuide, Grape is a food plant.

Letter 6 – Eight Spotted Forrester Caterpillar

 

Subject: Caterpillar Munching on Grapevine
Location: High Springs, Florida
April 18, 2015 6:00 pm
Hi! Despite numerous attempts to ID this beautiful caterpillar, its true identity continues to elude me. It sure loves my grapevine and it gets more beautiful everyday. I’d love for you to tell me what it’ll become. Thank you.
Signature: Elizabeth

Eight Spotted Forrester Caterpillar
Eight Spotted Forrester Caterpillar

Dear Elizabeth,
Your caterpillar is an Eight Spotted Forrester Caterpillar,
Alypia octomaculata, and we verified its identification on BugGuide.  The adult Eight Spotted Forrester is a pretty black and white diurnal moth that is frequently mistaken for a butterfly when it visits blossoms on sunny days.

Letter 7 – Eight Spotted Forrester Caterpillar

 

Subject:  catapillar ID
Geographic location of the bug:  Houston Area
Date: 12/07/2017
Time: 05:27 PM EDT
A friend of mine has come across these and can’t ID them. Any help would be appreciated.
How you want your letter signed:  anything will do

Eight Spotted Forrester Caterpillar

This is the caterpillar of an Eight Spotted Forrester, which you can verify by comparing your image to this BugGuide image.  According to BugGuide:  “Larvae feed on leaves of grape (Vitis spp.), peppervine (Ampelopsis spp.), and Virginia Creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia).”   We are postdating your submission to go live later in the month when our editorial staff is on holiday.

Letter 8 – Eight Spotted Forrester Caterpillar feeding on Grape

 

Subject: Unidentified Hairy Caterpillar
Location: Houston, TX
April 8, 2016 5:53 pm
4/08/16 – We have just found several of these caterpillars on our Mustang Grape plant. We live in Houston, TX. We have tried to look up the caterpillar in two separate reference books: Caterpillars in the Field and Garden (Thomas J. Allen, Jim P Brock, Jeffrey Glassberg) as well as Peterson First Guides, Caterpillars (Amy Bartlett Wright), without success.
The Caterpillars are devouring the leaves on the Mustang Grape plant quite aggressively. We don’t want to kill them, we are just curious as to what they are. We have had this plant for 18-years and it has never been eaten before. The plant has never produced fruit. Any help you can provide would be greatly appreciated!
Signature: Colette Lassberg

Eight Spotted Forrester Caterpillar
Eight Spotted Forrester Caterpillar

Dear Colette,
This is the caterpillar of an Eight Spotted Forrester,
Alypia octomaculata, a species that according to BugGuide:  “Larvae feed on leaves of grape (Vitis spp.), peppervine (Ampelopsis spp.), and Virginia Creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia).”  If you are concerned about the survival of the caterpillars but you want to protect your grape vine, you can purchase another food plant and relocate the caterpillars.  The adult Eight Spotted Forrester is a lovely diurnal moth.

Eight Spotted Forrester Caterpillar
Eight Spotted Forrester Caterpillar

Letter 9 – Unknown Caterpillar on Grape may be Eight Spotted Forrester

 

What Larvae is This?
June 10, 2010
I’d like to know what moth or butterfly caterpillar this is. It’s on a grape vine and is a little over an inch long.
Jayne Wilson
Houston area, Texas

Probably Eight Spotted Forrester Caterpillar

Hi Jayne,
We know we have seen images of this Moth Caterpillar in the past, but we cannot recall what it is.  It superficially resembles the caterpillars of the Grape Leaf Skeletonizers in the genus Harrisina pictured on BugGuide, but that is not a correct identification.  We are going to post your photo and letter and we hope that our readership can assist in the identification.  Though your photograph is quite lovely the way you have composed it, we cropped it to more closely concentrate on the caterpillar.

Thanks for the response, Daniel. I’ll check back to see if anyone has more info.
Jayne

Karl provides some information
Hi Daniel and Jayne:
This caterpillar probably looks familiar to you because it looks similar to several that have been posted on WTB before. It looks a lot like a Fruit-Piercing Moth (Noctuidae) in the genus Gonodonta, but all the white hairs on the body suggest it is likely another Noctuid, a day-flying Forester Moth in the genus Alypia. Many of these moth caterpillars look quite similar and the head and tail regions are not visible in Jayne’s photo, but I think it is likely an Eight-Spotted Forester (Alypia octomaculata), previously posted by Laura in 2007. You can use the WTB search function to also find numerous images of adults. There are many good caterpillar images on the internet, like this one on pbase. Eight-Spotted Forester caterpillars feed on grapes and Virginia Creeper. I can’t say for certain that that is the genus, but that I am pretty sure that Alypia is the correct genus. Regards.
Karl

Now I’ve had a chance to look at photos of the moth — I think I can confirm that it is an Eight Spotted Forester.  I remember seeing what I took to be a black butterfly with white spots on the Star Jasmine a month or so back.  It looked exactly like the photos I found online.
Thanks, Jayne

Jayne provides photos of imago Eight Spotted Forrester
June 11, 2010
I’m attaching some photos that I took at the end of May that I thought were of butterflies.  Now I know they were Eight-Spotted Forester Moths.
Thanks for posting my original caterpillar photo, and to Karl for providing more information.
Jayne Wilson

Eight Spotted Forrester

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.

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