Harnessed Tiger Moth Facts: All You Need To Know

In this article, we talk about harnessed tiger moths, and all you should know about these brightly colored insects.

Brightly colored insects are a treat to look at but often, these colors have a deeper meaning. Many insects use colors to present themselves as an undesirable meal to predators.

The harnessed tiger moth is one of those insects that uses its bright colors to defend itself against potential hunters.

But that is not the only fascinating thing about these insects. Let us find out more in this article.

Harnessed Tiger Moth Facts
Bright Coloration
Source: Andy Reago & Chrissy McClarrenCC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Scientific Classification Table

FamilyErebidaeSubfamily: Arctiinae
IdentificationThe abdomen is black with a red-colored side.The hindwings have black patches, and the forewings have triangular patterns separated by tan lines.
Size1.18 to 1.65 inches
Wingspan Size1.2-1.6 inches
RangeUS, Canada, and Mexico
Lifespan5-10 days
Life CycleEggs, larvae, pupae, adults
DietHerbaceous plants, scrubs, different types of grass, etc.
Conservation StatusG5 Secure (Very low risk)
Other Common NamesApantesis phalerata

What Does The Harnessed Tiger Moth Look Like?

Harnessed tiger moth is one of the moths that looks quite similar to a butterfly. This is due to the bright and flashy colors in their bodies. 

You can spot these moths flying around from spring to late autumn. 

Similar to the others in the family, the harnessed tiger moth caterpillars have a grayish-black body covered with fuzzy bristles.

However, these bristle-like hair are yellow-colored. Also, you will notice a thin orange strip on its head. 

The caterpillars actively consume herbaceous plants like dandelions, corn, etc. Adding to that, these insects are nocturnal in nature and are easily attracted by light sources.

Harnessed Tiger Moth Size – How Big Does The Harnessed Tiger Moth Get?

Harnessed tiger moths can get big, and an average healthy adult tiger moth can range from 1.18 to 1.65 inches in length.

The wingspan can be around 1.2-1.6 inches. When they spread those wings, the actual bright colors come into display.

You will notice that their abdomen is black with a red colored side. The hindwings have black patches, and the forewings display triangular patterns separated by tan lines.

This bright display of color is an excellent example of aposematic coloration. These colors serve as a signal to different predators that the moths have a foul taste.

Harnessed Tiger Moth Facts
Source: Andy Reago & Chrissy McClarrenCC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Harnessed Tiger Moth Lifespan – How Long Does A Harnessed Tiger Moth Live?

Like the others in the moth family, harnessed tiger moth adults don’t survive for long. A healthy individual can live up to 5-10 days.

Soon after emerging from the pupae, they start mating. Both the male and female tiger moths die shortly after mating and laying eggs.

In some cases, these insects can die much earlier due to attack by predators like bats and birds.

You must note that the lifespan of an adult somewhat depends on the food they consume during the larval stage as caterpillars.

Harnessed Tiger Moth Life Cycle

Like butterflies, harnessed tiger moths also undergo the complete process of metamorphosis. The entire cycle has four stages: Eggs, Larvae, Pupae, and adults.

Mating & Egg Laying

The process starts with the mating of male and female moths. You must note that the eggs are fertilized inside the female body during mating.

After mating, these females carry the fertilized eggs in their bodies to lay them in a secure and warm spot. They ensure that the area is near a variety of host plants that the larvae feed on.

The females die soon after laying the eggs.

Caterpillar

It takes around ten days for the harnessed tiger moth caterpillars to hatch from the eggs. If the weather gets extreme, the time frame can differ.

After hatching, the caterpillars go on an all-out eating fest. They start by consuming the eggshell from which they emerged. This may sound weird, but these eggshells provide vital vitamins and proteins.

Once that is out, they shift to a nearby host plant and start consuming plant matter. These caterpillars must eat enough to be able to start pupating.

Tiger moths caterpillars can consume food that is more than 2,000 times their body weight.

Harnessed Tiger Moth Facts
Source: Andy Reago & Chrissy McClarren, CC BY 2.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Pupation

Once they have acquired enough nutrition to start pupating, they leave the host tree. The main focus now is to find a secure spot to start pupating.

The region must be away from potential predators like bats and birds. They barely select open areas to pupate as it makes them vulnerable to bird attacks.

Adults

Within three weeks, healthy adults come out of the pupa. The time period can be lengthier as it is hard for the delicate moths to break past the pupal cover.

Where Is Harnessed Tiger Moth Found & Their Range?

They are found in various parts of North America, across the US, Canada, and Mexico.

In the US, you can easily spot these insects in different states like: Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Michigan, Missouri, Nebraska, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, South Dakota, Texas, Vermont, and many more.

They prefer to be in areas filled with plenty of food sources.

Spots with abundant herbaceous plants like plantains, clover, corn, and dandelion can be great for searching for these insects.

They also prefer to live in an area that is well-protected from predators like bats.

What Do Harnessed Tiger Moths Eat?

Harnessed tiger moths adults don’t feed much as they live for shorter and spend most of the time mating. In rare cases, you spot them sucking nectar.

The caterpillars are active eaters. They love to consume herbaceous plants, different types of grasses, scrubs, and more.

These larvae value nutrition a lot. In fact, they consume the eggshells of the eggs from which they emerged to get the necessary proteins.

Are Harnessed Tiger Moths Poisonous?

Harnessed tiger moths are not poisonous. However, the adults secrete a liquid to ward off predators. This fluid can be harmful to humans.

It can trigger allergic reactions in the body. Also, the furry body of the caterpillar can cause rashes and irritation if touched with bare hands.

Harnessed Tiger Moth Facts
Source: Andy Reago & Chrissy McClarren, CC BY 2.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Do Harnessed Tiger Moth Bite?

Harnessed tiger moths do not bite and don’t have a stinger as well. The only concerning factor is the tiger moth fluids that it releases.

These fluids can be harmful to humans. Adding to that, the liquid smells quite bad.

Avoid touching the moths and caterpillars without wearing safety equipment like gloves to keep injuries and allergies at bay.

How To Attract Harnessed Tiger Moth?

Harnessed tiger moths are easy to attract if you know the right hacks. This section will discuss a few productive ways to attract these insects.

Leave the porch lights on

Harnessed tiger moths are nocturnal and are attracted to light sources. It is easy for them to spot a lone light source from a distance.

Keeping your porch lights on during the night will lure these insects toward the source and reach your yard.

Have plants that the caterpillars like

As mentioned in the sections above, the females prefer to lay eggs in areas with abundant food sources. You can have a range of herbaceous plants and trees that will instantly attract female moths to your garden.

Here is a list of plants you should plant:

  • Red maple
  • Paper birch
  • persimmon
  • black walnut
  • American chestnut
  • White oak
  • Willow
  • Smooth sumac

Also, there is no need to worry about the garden as these insects don’t swarm and destroy plants.

Keep predators at bay.

Harnessed tiger moths are quite particular about settling in places that are far away from the presence of predators like bats and lizards.

If you want around, it is best to keep your garden free from these potential predators. A safe environment is ideal for the moths to lay eggs.

Harnessed Tiger Moth Facts
Source: Andy Reago & Chrissy McClarren, CC BY 2.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Harnessed Tiger Moth Spiritual Meaning

There are many spiritual meanings attached to tiger moths. Different types of tiger moths hold different gravity in various cultures worldwide.

For example, white-colored moths are considered a sign of peace and innocence. This is because white is often considered the color of peace.

However, particular spiritual meanings attached to tiger moths hold true for all the different species in the family. Mentioned are two of the most common spiritual meanings:

Embracing the light

Since tiger moths are attracted to light sources, it is common to spot them swarming or flying toward a glowing object.

This practice is used as an example to keep moving from darkness to light.

Thus, spotting a tiger moth is an indication that the person must leave the dark and start embracing the light in their soul.

Being rational

The same practice of the moth flying toward light is taken as a warning sign in some cultures.

It teaches that no matter how enticing the glow is, being too close to the fire will burn you.

Therefore should not be easily lured by charming deals or things and think rationally before making a decision.

Harnessed Tiger Moth Facts

Apart from the bright colors in the body, there are many other reasons why the harnessed tiger moth is a fascinating creature to look at. Mentioned below are some of these facts and info:

  • Harnessed tiger moth looks quite similar to the Parthenice Tiger Moth. The colors on the body are almost the same but, if you look closely, you will notice that the tan veins are much thinner than the harnessed tiger moths.
  • Harnessed tiger moth was first discovered and described by American Entomologist Thaddeus William Harris in the year 1841.
  • Tiger moths are delicate insects. Even the slightest pressure can kill these moths; Therefore, you should not try to hold them or pick them up forcefully. Instead of touching, enjoy looking from a distance.
  • Harnessed tiger moths are nocturnal, but in many instances, they can be spotted flying around open spaces during the daytime.
  • Harnessed tiger moth caterpillars can survive extreme weather conditions. These caterpillars can easily survive temperatures below the freezing point.
  • You can spot adult harnessed tiger moths flying around from April to September.

How To Get Rid Of Harnessed Tiger Moth?

Harnessed tiger moths might be beautiful to look at, but these insects are not the best ones to have around.

They emit a foul-smelling liquid that can cause health problems; therefore, these insects must be kept away from your house and yards.

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

Keep the porch lights off.

As we stated in one of the sections above, lights are one of the attractive things for these insects. As soon as they spot a glowing object, they start flying toward it.

This is why you must limit porch light usage to a bare minimum. Also, remember to close the windows and doors during the nighttime.

These insects will take every opportunity to enter a well-lit home.

Vinegar: The best natural repellent

Instead of using pesticides to drive harnessed tiger moth caterpillars out, use vinegar. Yes, you read it right. Caterpillars don’t like the smell of vinegar.

They usually do not dwell around an area that smells the same. Sprinkle it on spots where these caterpillars gather and wait for the magic to happen.

Use pepper-garlic mixture

Another effective way to deal with the caterpillars is using a pepper and garlic mixture. Create a mixture of pepper and garlic, and add it to a bottle of water.

Spray this solution directly on the caterpillars. This natural solution will kill the caterpillars slowly.

Frequently Asked Questions

Are harnessed tiger moths poisonous?

No, harnessed tiger moths are not poisonous. They do not bite or sting and are gentle insects. The only danger is the foul-smelling liquid they emit when they spot danger.
This liquid can cause health problems and allergic reactions in the human body. Therefore, do not try to touch or grab them.

Are tiger moths rare?

There are around 11,000 known species of tiger moths worldwide. It is quite common to spot these insects swarming around a light source during peak months.
However, with time the populations of various tiger moth species are declining fast. One of the main reasons behind this is habitat loss.

Can a big moth hurt you?

Moths are not poisonous or dangerous. These species of insects don’t bite or sting.
But if you threaten them, they will quickly release some foul-smelling body fluids that can cause illness and allergies to the human body.
Therefore it is best to not disturb these insects.

What is the rarest moth?

The Lymantrine moth is one of the rarest months in the world. These moths are fewer in number and are extremely difficult to spot.
Their specialty is the pair of transparent wings which is quite rare in a moth. These are also commonly known as Asian gypsy moths.

Wrap Up

Some insects are quite gentle and harmful until you provoke them. Harnessed tiger moths will cause no harm to you if you don’t threaten or disturb them.

The liquid from their body can cause allergic reactions in the human body. Refrain from touching them without taking proper safety measures. We hope the article was useful.

Thank you for reading it.

Reader Emails

We have shared below some of the images and letters from our readers showcasing this brightly colored moth.

Letter 1 – Tiger Moth from Tasmania

 

Tasmanian Tiger Moth?
Location: Southport, Tasmania
July 24, 2011 9:34 pm
We found this beautiful fella down in Southport, Tasmania…about as far south as you can get. I really dont have much idea what it could be, but I was looking for pictures of Tigermoth aeroplanes recently and saw they look very much like North American Tiger Moths, complete with the vivid orange under the main wings…but nothing like any Tiger Moths I could find from Australia.
I have found some of the most beautiful moths in this location and have more to share! but would really like to clear up this mystery first.
Thanks
Signature: Dave

Tiger Moth

Hi Dave,
We are posting your Tiger Moth image prior to getting an identification.  Perhaps one of our readers will be able to provide a comment.  We are also contacting Julian Donahue, an expert in Tiger Moths, to see if he is able to provide any information.

Julian Donahue provides a species identification
Although very similar in appearance to some species of Hyphantria from Mexico, this Australian moth appears to be Spilosoma glatignyi. Like many arctiids, the extent of the black markings is highly variable; this is a relatively dark individual.
Julian

Fantastic! Thanks so much, I cant wait to go back there with an even keener eye and new knowledge to see what I can find!
Dave Scully

Letter 2 – Harnessed Tiger Moth and Sphinx

 

Subject: South Western PA moths
Location: Pittsburgh PA
June 4, 2012 1:19 pm
Hi Bugman. I always enjoy your postings on Facebook and trying to identify the various bugs I see around my home. I have a selection of moths that have been hanging out around my porch light that I have not been able to name.
Signature: Cherie

Harnessed Tiger Moth

Hi Cherie,
If you are interested in learning more about your local moths, you might want to consider checking our some National Moth Week events in your area.  We believe the black and white Tiger Moth is a Harnessed Tiger Moth,
Apantesis phalerata, which we located on BugGuide, however the site notes:  “There are no 100% consistent diagnostic characteristics in wing maculation or spots/no spots on the patagia (the “collar”), to reliably distinguish nais/carlotta/phalerata/vittata. The only full-proof method is dissection and examination of genitalia (the exception is in male phalerata, in which the valve is easily distinguished by its longer, up-curved apex. So one could brush the scales away from the last sternite and see it without dissection. The nais/carlotta/vittata group have rather blunt and rounded apices of the valve.) However, within this group, using the sum of typical (although not necessarily diagnostic) characteristics, can allow for a reasonably probable species ID. — J.D. Roberts”  Your photo does look very much like this unidentified member of the genus pictured on BugGuide.  We would also note that Tiger Moths in the genus Apantesis are frequently confused with the similar genus Grammia, also pictured on BugGuide.  Your Sphinx Moth is a Small Eyed Sphinx, Paonias myops, and you can read more about it on the Sphingidae of the Americas website.  Your third moth appears to be a member of the family Geometridae.

Small Eyed Sphinx

Letter 3 – Red Striped Tiger Moth from Sri Lanka

 

Subject: Moths of Sri Lanka
Location: Sri Lanka
November 2, 2012 7:29 am
I have over 60 species of Moth to ID from Sri Lanka. Found you guys and thought i would test you out! I have attached 3 fairly distinctive looking Moths to start with. Really hope you can help ID these. If not maybe suggest someone who can? So i can contact them.
Any help will be gratefully received, thanks.
Signature: Gary T

Red Striped Tiger Moth

Hi Again Gary,
We found your Red Striped Tiger Moth,
Cyana selangorica or some related species in the genus, on Project Noah.

Letter 4 – Newly emerged Black and White Tiger Moth from Australia

 

Subject: Beetle larvae?
Location: Adelaide, South Australia
April 28, 2015 3:53 am
Hi, I came across this strange insect in my yard ( Adelaide Metropolitan area). It followed me, definately turning around several times each time I stepped over it. It had 6 legs, long antennas, small whitish green & black spotted wings behind its head, but a very bold orangey-red & black spotted large grub-like shaped body. It was large – over an inch long in total. My yard is totally paved, but it is over hung by big yellow scented gum trees. I have searched for beetles that look similar & beetle larvae but drawn a blank. Wondered if anyone had any ideas?
Signature: Thanks, Gill

Newly emerged Black and White Tiger Moth
Newly emerged Black and White Tiger Moth

Dear Gill,
This colorful creature is a newly emerged Black and White Tiger Moth,
Spilosoma glatignyi, and its wings have not yet expanded.  According to the Butterfly House website:  “The species may be found over the whole of the southern half of Australia.”  The Esperance Fauna site provides this interesting information:  “From the Arctiidae family, Spilosoma glatignyi is a stunning looking moth which despite its beauty, apparently tastes pretty awful in order to discourage predators. It sports bright red colors to visually signal its distasteful nature, but apart from predators that may find it roosting during the day, it would serve little purpose and possibly has another function. However to advertise to potential predators at night, it uses a high pitched vocalisation to warn them (particularly bats) that they are not worth eating. The larvae protect themselves with a covering of irritating hairs and feed from a wide variety of plant species.” 

Hi Daniel,
Thank you very much for sharing your expertise.
Much appreciated!
Gill

Letter 5 – Tiger Moth from South Africa

 

Subject: Is this a walnut moth??
Location: South Africa
April 3, 2017 11:25 am
Hello!
My mom saw this moth in South Africa and we can’t ID it! Ithe looks like a walnut moth but it seems that’s found in America, it also doesn’t have the spots!
Thank you!
Signature: Jess

Tiger Moth: Metarctia lateritia

Dear Jess,
While your beautiful Tiger Moth does bear a superficial resemblance to the North American Royal Walnut Moth, they are not even closely related.  The first matching image we found was on the Photographs from South Africa blog, but the moth is not identified.  FlickR provided us with the name
Automolis lateritia.  It is identified on iSpot as  Automolis lateritia subsp. lateritia, but according to African Moths, the accepted name is Metarctia lateritia and synonyms include:  “Automolis lateritia, Hebena venosa, Metarctia aegrota, Automolis unicolor.”  The well feathered antennae indicates your individual is a male.  This lovely moth was featured on a 1953 postage stamp from Mozambique based on Colourbox.

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.

  • 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.

2 thoughts on “Harnessed Tiger Moth Facts: All You Need To Know”

    • Thanks for the spelling correction suggestion. The spelling provided by Lepidopterist and Tiger Moth specialist Julian Donahue may have been changed, but it is still found online.

      Reply

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