All About the Garden Tiger Moth: Facts, Behavior, and More

In this article, we share some important details about garden tiger moths, their caterpillars, their lifecycle, eating habits and a wide range of other topics regarding them.

Garden tiger moths are rare tiger moths that can be seen flying around the garden in the daytime despite being nocturnal.

But the biggest concern is whether these tiger moths are poisonous like some of their relatives. Are they dangerous to humans and pets? If yes, how to get rid of them?

In this article, we will explore all the necessary details of these amazing bright-colored moths.

garden tiger moth
Garden Tiger Moth

Scientific Classification Table

FamilyArctiidae, order Lepidoptera
IdentificationOrange hindwings with navy-blue spots
Size 
Wingspan Size1.96-3.07 inches
RangeUS, Canada, England, Wales, and Scotland
Lifespan1-2 weeks as adults
Life CycleEggs, larvae, pupa, adult
DietHerbaceous plants (like water dock, common nettle) and nectar
Conservation StatusUK BAP: Priority species (research only)
Other Common NamesArctia Caja L.

What does a Garden Tiger Moth look like?

Garden tiger moths(Arctia Caja) are beautiful species of tiger moths who are known for their brightly colored bodies.

These moths are regular visitors in flowering gardens and are considered good pollinators.

Similar to other tiger moths, the garden tiger moths larvae have a coat of thick and fuzzy hair surrounding the body. They are commonly known as woolly bears.

The bright color of the bodies serves as a firm warning to the predators and is an example of aposematic coloration.

Adding to that, these moths produce and secrete a yellow fluid from the ducts behind their heads when they feel threatened.

You can spot them basking in the sunlight and flying around a garden, but they are usually active during the night.

Woolly Bear

Garden Tiger Moth Size – How big does Garden Tiger Moth get?

Garden tiger moths are large-sized insects with an average wingspan of 1.96-3.07 inches.

The bright colors of these moths are not clearly visible when they are at rest. When threatened, it displays the tangerine orange hindwings with navy blue spots.

On observing closely, you will notice a pile of brown hair behind their heads.

The moths at the larval stage are woolly bear caterpillars. They are known for a long black coat of hair on their bodies.

The lower section is covered with orange hair. They can be uniquely identified by the white dots present in the body.

These caterpillars can be seen from August to late June, after which they start pupating.

Garden Tiger Moth lifespan – How long does Garden Tiger Moth live?

Garden tiger moth adults don’t survive for long. These insects can live up to 1-2 weeks. The time period can be much shorter to the presence of potential predators.

Lizards, birds, and bats actively hunt down the adults. They use the bright colors in the body to throw warning signals at these predators.

These colors make them look somewhat unattractive as prey. The tiger moth larvae are often killed by parasitoids.

The woolly bears can live up to 2-4 weeks before starting the pupation process.

Garden Tiger Moth Life Cycle

Usually, the eggs of tiger moths are fertilized inside the female body, and after mating, the females directly lay the fertilized eggs.

These newly laid eggs are pale green in color. With time they start developing a metallic blue hue.

The female usually searches for spots that are free from predators and near a variety of host plants.

As soon as the larvae come out, they consume the eggshell to obtain the necessary vitamins and proteins.

Soon after that, they shift to the host plant location and start feeding. These larvae prefer plant families that have pyrrolizidine alkaloids in plant.

It takes around ten days for the woolly bears to come out of the eggs. This period can be longer or shorter depending on the climatic conditions of the region.

You will be amazed to know that an average woolly bear can consume plant matter that weighs around 2,700 times more than its body weight.

They keep eating until they reach the final stages of being a caterpillar. Once they reach the final stage, they leave the host plant in search of a safe spot to start pupating.

Garden Tiger Moth

They like to choose areas that are well-covered and protected from predators like birds. After settling in the new environment, they start pupating, and within three weeks, an adult emerges from a pupa.

The moths are delicate as an adult; therefore, it takes quite a struggle to break past the thick layers of the pupa.

Where is Garden Tiger Moth found & Their Range?

As mentioned in the sections above, garden tiger moths like to be in open spaces like gardens, riverbanks, open woodlands, meadows, and fens.

Unfortunately, the garden tiger moth population is declining fast due to habitat loss. These moths are found in North America, Canada, England, Scotland, and Wales.

They are well distributed in various parts of Britain. But since the 1980s, the population has been declining fast here as well.

One of the main reasons behind this is the continuous clearing of hedgerows in various parts of the country.

What do Garden Tiger Moths Eat?

The garden tiger moth consumes a wide variety of plants. Herbaceous plants are their favorites to munch on.

The adults survive on nectar and are seen actively flying from one garden to the other. In fact, these insects are considered good pollinators.

The larvae start feeding from the moment it hatches from the eggs. In many cases, these caterpillars eat the shell of the egg from which they hatched.

Other plants like Water Dock (Rumex Hydrolapathum), common Nettle (Urtica dioica), burdocks (Arctium spp.), Broad-leaved Dock (Rumex obtusifolius), and Hounds’s-tongue (Cynoglossum officinale) are also consumed by the woolly bears.

Are Garden Tiger Moths Poisonous?

Garden tiger moths are not poisonous in nature. But humans must be careful around both adults and woolly bears.

The woolly bears have fine bristles on their bodies, and if you touch them with bare hands, the hair can cause hives, rashes, and irritation. It is wise to wear safety gloves in such cases.

The adult releases a yellow-colored liquid from the ducts behind their heads when they feel threatened.

Direct contact with this liquid caused irritation and in some cases, stinging sensations were also marked. If you see a garden tiger moth or woolly bear, do not touch them; sit back and enjoy watching them.

Woolly Bear Caterpillar

Do Garden Tiger Moths Bite?

Garden tiger moths have no stingers, and they do not bite. They are quite harmless to humans if you don’t try to manhandle them.

The only problem comes when these insects feel threatened. They release a yellow liquid to defend themselves against predators, and this liquid can cause irritation to the human skin.

How to attract Garden Tiger Moth?

Since garden tiger moths are good pollinators, it is beneficial to have them around in your garden. To attract these insects, you must make a hospitable environment for them to live in.

You can start by planting herbaceous plants and other trees that these insects love to consume.

Also, you do not need to worry about your plants, as they usually do not swarm in big numbers to destroy crops.

Plants and trees like Paper birch, hickory, American beech, and willow are great to lure the adults to your garden where they will mate and lay eggs.

Try to keep predators like birds, bats, and lizards away from your garden. Garden tiger moths avoid laying eggs in places with predators around them.

Being nocturnal, they are easily attracted by lights. Keep your porch lights on, and they will surely fly towards it.

Garden Tiger Moth meaning

There are a ton of spiritual meanings attached to various insects and animals.

People across different cultures believe that spotting an insect is more than a mere coincidence, it has a deeper meaning.

Spotting of a tiger moth is attached to various spiritual meanings.

One of the most common spiritual beliefs states that if you spot a tiger moth, it is an indication that you need to seek and embrace the inner light in your soul.

You should steer away from darkness and start moving toward the light.

This idea is captured by the fact that tiger moths are great at spotting light sources in the dark.

Being nocturnal, they can spot different light sources from far. Once they spot the source, they start flying toward it.

Some cultures also take this in the opposite sense. Here the flying of the moth toward fire/light source is taken as a lesson that you must not roam too close to the fire.

They use it as a lesson to think rationally and not get lured by a seductive medium.

Garden Tiger Moth Facts

We have pretty much covered every basic detail of a garden tiger moth. But there are some other interesting facts about these insects that will surely intrigue you. Here are a few of them:

  • Garden tiger moths usually prefer to stay in open gardens, woodlands, and meadows where they get enough herbaceous plants to feed on. But they are also found in sand dunes that are covered with scrubs.
  • Garden moths and adults do not survive for long. Soon after emerging from the pupa, they start mating. The males and females die shortly after the mating and laying of eggs get done.
  • If you look carefully, you will notice bright red hair on the face of garden tiger moth adults. You will also observe a tuft of brown hair on their heads.
  • Despite being nocturnal in nature, you can spot garden tiger moths in the daytime. They like to bask in the sunlight and enjoy feeding on nectar in a fully developed garden.
  • The orange part of these insects is usually hidden; they only reveal this part when they sense danger nearby. By displaying the bright colors, they are warning the predators that attacking and consuming them is not a good idea.
  • When the garden tiger moth caterpillar senses danger, it directly curls up into a ball. By doing so, it exposes the bristly hair to predators. This technique saves them from getting eaten.
  • Tiger moths adults are soft and delicate. Even the slightest pressure can easily kill them. Therefore do not try to hold or grab them forcefully. It might kill the insect.

How to get rid of the Garden Tiger Moths?

Garden tiger moths are not harmful unless they feel threatened. Yes, they are beneficial for the garden, but being around them can be a little risky.

Here are a few hacks to get rid of garden tiger moths from your home and garden:

Use Vinegar.

Moths don’t like the smell of vinegar; they often move away from places that smell like vinegar.

Sprinkle a few drops of vinegar on areas where you notice these insects and caterpillars regularly. Continues doing so, and within a few days, you will see the results.

Use a pepper-garlic mixture.

A solution of pepper and garlic is great for eliminating woolly bears from your garden. Create a mixture of pepper and garlic.

Add this mixture to water to create a solution. Put it in a sprinkler bottle and spray it directly on the caterpillar. The mixture will kill the caterpillars slowly.

Keep the lights in check.

Being nocturnal; these insects are easily attracted to lights. They might spot your porch lights from a distance and start flying toward them.

Keep the brightness of the lights in check and try to keep them off when not in use. This will prevent them from discovering your home.

Garden Tiger Moth

Frequently Asked Questions

Where can you find a garden tiger moth?

Garden tiger moths can be spotted in open areas like gardens, woodlands, damp meadows, sand dunes with scrubs, and riversides.
The populations are declining due to habitat destruction, but you can find them in the US, Canada, England, Wales, and Scotland.

Can you touch tiger moth caterpillars?

It is not safe to touch tiger moth caterpillars with bare hands. These caterpillars are covered in a thick coat of bristly hair that can be poisonous to humans.
Even if some of the species are not toxic, they can cause irritation to human skin.

What do tiger moths turn into?

Adult tiger moths are in the final stage of the life cycle; soon after mating, they die. The woolly bear caterpillar grows up to become a healthy tiger moth.
The feeding intensity of the caterpillar highly determines the health of the adult.

Do tiger moths sting?

No, tiger moths do not possess a stinger, and they do not sting. Some of them can be highly toxic; therefore, it is not wise to touch them with bare hands.
You can use safety gloves to avoid direct contact while touching these insects.

Wrap Up

Garden tiger moths are gentle creatures, but you should never threaten them. They can release a yellow liquid that can cause skin problems and irritation in humans.

They are beneficial as pollinators, and you can use the tips mentioned in the article to attract them. Thank you for reading the piece.

Authors

    by
  • 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

22 thoughts on “All About the Garden Tiger Moth: Facts, Behavior, and More”

  1. The caterpillar of this species is edible — though it’s somewhat surprising, considering their hairiness. There’s a citation of the North American consumption of this species in De Foliart’s classic [but possibly no longer definitive] annotated bibliography/compendium.

    Dave
    http://www.smallstockfoods.com

    Reply
    • Hi Dave,
      We will tag this as edible, though the thought of picking all those hairs from between our teeth does not make eating one of the Woolly Bears all that appetizing.

      Reply
  2. Hi Daniel,

    Good point. I know that various hairy [and therefore seemingly undesirable] caterpillars are eaten around the world; often there is documentation that the consumers will burn away the insects’ bristles, setea, etc., by rolling them in hot ash at a campfire.

    Your observation motivated me to check out my source, namely:

    http://www.food-insects.com/book7_31/Chapter%2002%20N%20American%20Indigenous.htm

    Here’s what it says:

    Powers, S. 1877a. Tribes of California. Contributions to North American Ethnology, Vol. III. U.S. Geograph. & Geol. Surv. of Rocky Mtn. Region, Dept. Interior, pp. 379, 430-431.

    Powers (p. 379) says of the Yokuts of California:

    Powers lists (pp. 430-431) a number of insects among the animal foods of the Nishinam of Pacer County, California: Shek (Saturnia caeanothi [Hyalophora euryalis =]), caterpillar; Shek (two species of Arctia), caterpillar; Hol’-lih, crickets, roasted (formerly they were often roasted in large numbers by firing the woods); Pan’-nak, grubs found in decayed oak trees; Kut (Sphinx ludoviciana), a horned black worm (the Indian name denotes “a buck,” so-called because of the horn). En’neh, or grasshoppers, are eaten by the Konkau. They catch them with nets, or by driving them into pits, then roast them and reduce them to powder for preservation.

    Reply
  3. I have seen 4 great tiger moths on my deck under light in central Maine. I have researched the web for ID, I am sure that they are the Great Tiger Moth. Has anyone else seen these in Maine?

    Reply
    • We cannot easily tell without searching our archives if we have ever received a Great Tiger Moth from Maine. Bugguide has a nice feature for sighting data, and though they do not have any reports from Maine, they do have reports from surrounding areas.

      Reply
  4. hello guy’s
    I’M in oregon state in the city of Lafayette,
    we woke up this morning to a beautiful tiger moth on our back door. I have never seen one before so i looked them up online. I will try to get a photo of it.

    Reply
  5. I saw this moth up in Steamboat Springs two weeks ago. Finally looked it up, I have never seen one before. I took several pictures, but hate to admit i do not know how to send them, still trying to get my kids to show me how!

    Reply
  6. At my home, Frankfurt (Germany),
    the great tiger moth is common.
    But it is declining in the last years, because many individuans ended on the street lamps

    Reply
  7. At my home, Frankfurt (Germany),
    the great tiger moth is common.
    But it is declining in the last years, because many individuans ended on the street lamps

    Reply
  8. I believe I spotted one of these at the loaf and jug gas station in steamboat springs Colorado today at approx 330 pm. I moved it from the pump stand to a clump of spruces. It flew off before I could get a pic

    Reply
  9. No, the garden tiger moth certainly not declining because of the climate change.
    It ‘ s declining because of the light pollution

    Reply
  10. No, the garden tiger moth certainly not declining because of the climate change.
    It ‘ s declining because of the light pollution

    Reply

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