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.
Scientific Classification Table
|Family||Arctiidae, order Lepidoptera|
|Identification||Orange hindwings with navy-blue spots|
|Wingspan Size||1.96-3.07 inches|
|Range||US, Canada, England, Wales, and Scotland|
|Lifespan||1-2 weeks as adults|
|Life Cycle||Eggs, larvae, pupa, adult|
|Diet||Herbaceous plants (like water dock, common nettle) and nectar|
|Conservation Status||UK BAP: Priority species (research only)|
|Other Common Names||Arctia 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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
Over the years, our readers have often shared with us their encounters with wooly bears, especially since they have a connection with predicting the weather as per some folk tales.
Do go through some of the letters and pictures that they have shared with us in the past, and enjoy their insights into the fascinating lives of these insects.
Letter 1 – Great Tiger Moth or Garden Tiger Moth
What is this type
Good day, I came across this moth (I think) the other morning after building my deck. I’m living in Irma, Alberta and have never come across anything that looked like this, around here before. I noticed it first thing in the morning on my way to work. When I came home that evening I did a quick scan of the area to notice that it only moved to the opposite side of a 4 x 4 post. So to make a long story short, I am intrigued and I haven’t been able to find a picture on the net that looks anything close to this. Thanks
This is a Great Tiger Moth or Garden Tiger Moth, Arctia caja. It is found in Europe and Asia in temperate regions, and less frequently in Canada and Northern U.S.
Letter 2 – Great Tiger Moth
Found this moth in Richfield Utah, couldn’t get a great picture of it but it looks similar to several of the Arachnis sp pics I’ve seen. Any ideas? Thanks,
Arachnis was a good guess. The Great Tiger Moth, Arctia caja, is in the same tribe as the genus Arachnis. The tribe Arctiini, is a subdivision of the family, Arctiidae, subfamily Arctiinae, though it seems illogical that a tribe would be a division of a family as opposed to the other way around.
Letter 3 – Great Tiger Moth
seen at 11,000 ft. elevation
Dear bugman: Your web site is terrific. I’ve searched through countless photos of butterflies and moths and haven’t found one to match this one seen recently at about 11,000 ft. in the Colorado Rockies on a hike up Meadow Mountain. It was quite patient and seemingly calm, and allowed itself to be held for quite a while for photos. I’m assuming it’s a moth. Can you tell me what it is?
We would wager that this is a Great Tiger Moth, Arctia caja. According to BugGuide, there are four subspecies in North America. All of the images we can locate online show chocolate brown and white markings on the forewings, not charcoal and white like your image. Even the moth photographers site only shows two images. We will contact our neighbor Julian Donahue, an expert on Arctiids, and see what he has to say.
Hi Daniel, You nailed that one. A beautiful specimen. The species ranges as far south as Utah (subspecies utahensis).
Letter 4 – Great Tiger Moth
St. Lawrence Tiger Moth?
We are just east of Ottawa, Ontario and we found this beauty on the brick in the front of our house, in a nice shady spot. It was very friendly and decided to come in the house with us for a quick photo shoot on our kitchen floor. We couldn’t find an exact match on your site for this one, so thought I’d ask for your identification assistance. I am guessing that it is some sort of Tiger Moth, but uncertain of which breed it might be … the closest one I noticed on the site was the St. Lawrence Tiger Moth. I know you are swamped, but when you get the time I’d love your input. PS. Thanks for being such a great help to everyone and for all of the time and patience you extend to others. Thanks in advance! Cheers,
Rhonda M. Frank
Your beautiful moth is actually a holarctic species, the Great Tiger Moth, Arctia caja, also known as the Garden Tiger Moth in Europe. There are several subspecies in both the new and old world. It is an even more spectacular species than the St. Lawrence Tiger Moth. According to Bugguide, it is: “uncommon to rare in North America; European numbers have been declining in recent years “
Letter 5 – Great Tiger Moth
Colorful Moth August 28, 2009 What kind of moth is this? I took the picture in August 2008 in northern Utah, Heber City area up on the mountain. Toby Cramer Northern Utah, Heber City area Hi Toby, We don’t get many photos of the Great Tiger Moth, Arctia caja, which is known as the Garden Tiger Moth in Europe. This is a species that might need conservation since according to BugGuide it is: “uncommon to rare in North America; European numbers have been declining in recent years” BugGuide also indicates: “This species, formerly common throughout the UK, has steadily declined over the past 20 years, with numbers falling by around 30%. There has been a general movement away from the south and toward the north, with climate change believed to be a contributing factor. Warm, wet winters and warm springs are followed by a decrease in the number of tiger moths the following summer (Conrad et al, 2002). Arctia caja was a favourite with early European collectors, who selectively bred it to create unusual colours and forms.”
Letter 6 – Great Tiger Moth
moth w/blue spots, brown white September 4, 2009 Hello, My friend travels all over colorado and he put this photo up on Facebook of this moth… I haven’t been able to id it… do you know what kind it is? kellie karley Colorado Dear Kellie, This is a Great Tiger Moth, Arctia caja. Just a few days ago we posted another individual and since BugGuide indicates it is: “uncommon to rare in North America; European numbers have been declining in recent years” it is hopeful that we are receiving images of this lovely moth that is found in both Europe and the New World.
Letter 7 – Great Tiger Moth
What is this moth? Location: Montana July 18, 2011 12:21 pm What is this moth? Thanks for your help Signature: Laurie Hi Lauri, Your moth is Arctia caja, and in North America it is commonly called the Great Tiger Moth, however in Europe where it is also found, it is commonly called the Garden Tiger Moth. BugGuide has these remarks: “This species, formerly common throughout the UK, has steadily declined over the past 20 years, with numbers falling by around 30%. There has been a general movement away from the south and toward the north, with climate change believed to be a contributing factor. Warm, wet winters and warm springs are followed by a decrease in the number of tiger moths the following summer (Conrad et al, 2002). Arctia caja was a favourite with early European collectors, who selectively bred it to create unusual colours and forms.”
Letter 8 – Great Tiger Moth
Great Tiger Moth Location: Bonney Lake, WA August 3, 2011 3:13 pm Hello WTB, Last week I sent you pictures of a Blinded Sphinx Moth I found. Today to my delight my mom spotted this gorgeous beauty on the side of our house. Like the Sphinx, this moth seemed comfortable sitting in my hand and I got a few good pictures that I thought you might enjoy! I only found one other on your site, so here’s more for your collection. Signature: Amy Hi Amy, Though we actually have multiple images of Great Tiger Moths, Arctia caja, buried in our archives, we always love posting high quality new images. The Great Tiger Moth is found in Eurasia as well as North America. Like many other Tiger Moths, the Great Tiger Moth does not feed as an adult.
Letter 9 – Garden Tiger Moth from France
Subject: Unknown Moth Location: Le Chautay, France September 8, 2013 4:33 am Dear Bugman, I was just wondering what this beautiful moth was Signature: Cassia Dear Cassia, This lovely Tiger Moth, Arctia cuja, is found in Eurasia as well as North America. In Europe it is commonly called the Garden Tiger Moth, and you may read about it on the UK Safari site which states: “Garden Tiger moths are quite variable in colour” and “Garden Tiger moths fly late in the day and at night. They’re often attracted to lights at night. In order to deter predators Garden Tigers can make a rasping noise by rubbing their wings together. If that doesn’t work they can exude a drop of bright yellow blood from the thorax.” In North America it is commonly called the Great Tiger Moth and according to BugGuide: “This species, formerly common throughout the UK, has steadily declined over the past 20 years, with numbers falling by around 30%. There has been a general movement away from the south and toward the north, with climate change believed to be a contributing factor. Warm, wet winters and warm springs are followed by a decrease in the number of tiger moths the following summer (Conrad et al, 2002).” All the photos from our archive are from North America, so your individual is actually the first posting we can title “Garden Tiger Moth” so we are thrilled to post your photos. The Garden Tiger Moth is an important species historically as it was one of the first metamorphosis documentations done by Maria Sibylla Merian and it is one of the first moths named by the “father of modern taxonomy” Carl Linneaus in 1758 when he developed the binomial system of naming all species that is still used today.
Letter 10 – Garden Tiger Moth from France REDUX
Subject: Moth Location: Le Chautay, France April 18, 2014 4:42 am Dear Bugman, I was wondering if you could help me identify this beautiful moth i found in France. Signature: Cassia Hi Cassia, We were excited to get your photo, but upon using our typical naming convention, we were startled to find another example of a Garden Tiger Moth from France submitted by Cassia, so we added the number 2 to the name, and again, it came up as already in use, so we eventually settled on the Y2K compliant date of 20140418. Upon researching the previously submitted images, we realized you had already submitted this image in September 2013, and we provided a lengthy response. For some reason, you did not receive our response, so we present your new request as Garden Tiger Moth from France REDUX. Dear Bugman, I’m sorry about that, I had completely forgotten that I had already sent this one in – thank you for all of the wonderful information about the Garden Tiger Moth! Cassia
Letter 11 – Great Tiger Moth
Subject: Great Tiger Moth Location: Granby, Colorado August 17, 2015 8:03 pm This moth was on the side of our cabin at the C Lazy U guest ranch near Granby Colorado. Beautiful, vibrant colors – it hung out all afternoon prior to a rain storm. Very photogenic! Signature: LGS Dear LGS, The Great Tiger Moth or Garden Tiger Moth, Arctia caja, is a holarctic species, meaning it is found in Eurasia as well as North America. According to BugGuide: “This species, formerly common throughout the UK, has steadily declined over the past 20 years, with numbers falling by around 30%. There has been a general movement away from the south and toward the north, with climate change believed to be a contributing factor. Warm, wet winters and warm springs are followed by a decrease in the number of tiger moths the following summer (Conrad et al, 2002).”