Isabella Tiger Moth Facts: All You Need To Know

If you have spotted a unique bright-colored moth in your garden, it is likely to be the isabella tiger moth. Read all about this insect in the article below.

Isabella tiger moths are the adult form of woolly bear caterpillars. 

Yes, they might not be as widely known as the woolly bears, but there are a lot of fascinating things about this insect that we will discuss in this article. 

It will also shed some light on how these insects might be dangerous and whether we should be careful around the adults and the larvae. 

Isabella Tiger Moth

Scientific Classification Table 

IdentificationTan-yellow forewings with faint lines, tiny black spots, and orange hindwings.
SizeAround 2 inches
Wingspan Size2 inches 
RangeUSA, Canada, Mexico
Lifespan7-10 days
Life CycleEggs, larvae, pupae, adults
DietHerbaceous plants and different varieties of grass
Conservation StatusG5 Secure
Other Common Names Pyrrharctia isabella, Woolly Bears

What Does Isabella Tiger Moth Look Like?

Isabella tiger moths are in the adult stage of the woolly bear caterpillars. Indeed, the caterpillar form is more widely known than the adult stage. 

These insects can be easily identified by the tan-yellow forewings with faint lines and tiny black spots. The hindwings are usually orange. 

You might already know that larvae have a thick coat of fuzzy hair on their bodies. The color patterns on the bodies of these caterpillars are often considered to be weather predictors. 

We will discuss more this fascinating thing in the upcoming sections, but for now, let us get back to the basics.

These insects do not feed much as adults but are active eaters during their larval stage. 

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Isabella Tiger Moth Size – How Big Does Isabella Tiger Moth Get? 

Isabella tiger moths can be considered in the category of small to medium-sized moths, and a healthy isabella tiger moth can have a 2-inch wingspan

The wooly bears (larval form) can grow around 1.5 inches long. 

The growth of the caterpillar majorly depends on its feeding intensity. This is why the females prefer to lay eggs in areas with plenty of food sources nearby. 

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Isabella Tiger Moth Lifespan – How Long Does Isabella Tiger Moth Live?

Isabella tiger moth adults do not live for long. An active and healthy adult tiger moth can only live 7-10 days under ideal conditions. 

In the wild, they are hunted down by potential predators like bats, lizards, and birds.

The woolly bear caterpillars live much longer than the adults. 

They spend most of their time feeding and attaining enough nutrition to grow out and become healthy adults. 

In fact, they can defend themselves more comparatively than adults. The stiff hairs on their body make a predator think twice before attacking them. 

Isabella Tiger Moth Life Cycle

The mating happens soon after the new adults emerge from pupae. During mating, the eggs are fertilized inside the female body. 

Once the process is done, the female reaches a secure spot to lay the batch of fertilized eggs. It takes around two weeks for these eggs to hatch. 

These eggs stay mostly protected as the females select areas that are far from the reach of potential predators.

On hatching, the woolly bear caterpillars consume the eggshell of the eggs from which they hatch. 

Eggshells have a lot of protein, calcium, and other necessary vitamins. This also shows how important it is for woolly bears to consume nutritious food. 

Woolly Bear

In fact, these woolly worms are big eaters. After hatching and eating the eggshells, they shift to the host plant and start eating. 

An average healthy isabella tiger moth caterpillar can consume food that weighs more than 2,000 times its body weight. Fascinating right?

When the winter is milder, the woolly bears usually start looking for warm spots to hibernate during the upcoming cold winter. 

Once they wake up, they try to regain some strength by feeding on a variety of plants nearby. 

After the cold season is over, the caterpillars come out of their slumber and then start feeding again in order to become healthier.

After feeding, they leave the host plant and move to a secure location to start pupating. 

If they want to make it out alive as healthy adults, they must stay away from their predators, like birds and lizards. 

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After that, they begin the pupating process. It takes around two weeks for the adult moths to come out of the pupa. 

These adults are comparatively more delicate than their larval form; therefore, breaking the pupa might be a challenge. 

Where Is Isabella Tiger Moth Found & Their Range? 

Isabella tiger moths are common in almost all parts of North America. 

Missouri is a great place to spot these insects. In fact, this state is home to around 60 tiger moth species

Apart from Missouri, Isabella tiger moths are present in all states except for Alaska and Hawaii.

Canada and Mexico also have sizable isabella tiger moth populations. 

These insects hatch twice a year, and it is hard to find caterpillars in the open as they spend most of their time on a wide variety of host plants. 

However, in autumn, you can find them in the open, in search of warm places to hibernate for the winter. 

April to May is a good time to spot the insects in its pupal stage.

Painted Tiger Moth Woolly Bear in Mount Washington

What Do Isabella Tiger Moths Eat? 

In their adult forms, these insects don’t consume anything; they live for only around a week and spend entirely on mating. 

The caterpillars consume a wide range of plants as they are predominately herbivores. They love to munch on plants that bear seeds. Here is a list of plants that these insects love:

  • Yellow dock
  • Curly dock
  • Clover
  • Dandelions
  • Violets

If they cannot find these plants, they might also eat grass blades, barley, and maize. However, they do not prefer to eat dried grass blades.

Are Isabella Tiger Moths Poisonous? 

Isabella tiger moths are not poisonous, but you should never touch them with your bare hands. 

Tiger moths secrete a fluid from their body whose odor makes them appear unattractive to predators. This liquid can cause harm to humans by triggering allergic reactions in the body.

The caterpillars, or woolly bears, are not poisonous. However, making direct contact with them might cause issues like rashes and irritation in the skin due to their urticating spines. 

It is best to wear safety gloves before picking or touching them. 

Do Isabella Tiger Moth Bite? 

Isabella tiger moths are not aggressive, and they do not bite. They also can’t sting due to the absence of a stinger. 

But as we stated in the section above, you should try not to go too close to these moths. The foul-smelling liquid emitted by them is not good for your health. 

Also, if you try to touch a woolly bear, it will curl up into a ball. This will end up exposing you to the bristle-like hair on its body, which might cause skin irritation.

How To Attract Isabella Tiger Moth?

Woolly bear caterpillars can be dangerous to touch, but it is a joy to watch them. Here are a few tips for these moths to your yards.

Use lights

It is no surprise that isabella tiger moths are attracted to light sources. Almost every tiger moth species are instantly lured toward a glowing source. 

Use this to attract insects. Keep your porch lights on, and if there are any isabella tiger moths nearby, they will surely come rushing towards it. 

You can also install a light near your yard to maximize the results.

Isabella Tiger Moth

Have a variety of host plants in the garden

One of the most important criteria behind spot selection for egg laying is food availability. 

These spots must have plenty of food options for the newly hatched caterpillars to consume. If you have some of the following plants in your garden, the females will get attracted. 

  • Red maple
  • Persimmon
  • Paper birch
  • Black walnut
  • White oak
  • American chestnut
  • Smooth sumac
  • Willow 

Once you start spotting the caterpillars, carefully transfer them to a secluded tank. This will prevent them from causing damage to the plants.

Keep predators away

The mama tiger moths will never lay eggs in a region filled with predators like bats, birds, and lizards.

Therefore, you must ensure that none of the dangers are looming around your garden. Keep the spot safe and add plenty of feeding options for the caterpillars to get the best results. 

Isabella Tiger Moth Meaning 

In many cultures, people believe that woolly bears can determine the upcoming weather in a region.

If one spots a caterpillar with a brown band in the middle of its body, it indicates that the upcoming winter will be mild. 

But, if the woolly bear caterpillar has black bands, the next winter will be harsh. 

This symbolism is quite common, but it is wrong. The color of the bands depends on the feeding intensity of the caterpillar. 

Another interesting symbolism related to tiger moths is attached to the practice of moths flying toward the light. 

If you see a moth flying close to a light source, take it as a signal that you need to embrace the inner light in your soul. It also symbolizes that one should always move from darkness to light. 

It can also be a gentle reminder that being too close to the fire will burn you up. 

Take it as a lesson that being lured into a seductive deal or offer might not be a good idea. Reason before rushing into any crucial life decision. 

Unidentified Woolly Bear

Isabella Tiger Moth Facts 

There are a bunch of interesting facts related to isabella tiger moths and the woolly bear caterpillars. In this section, we will list a few of them:

  • Isabella tiger moth caterpillars are not poisonous, but there are other caterpillars that look similar and are. In fact, some of them are highly poisonous. Steer clear from Buck moths, puss caterpillars, and slug caterpillars.
  • Woolly bears are also commonly known as banded woolly bears and fuzzy caterpillars.
  • There is a band in the body of these caterpillars whose color keeps changing according to the nutrition received by them. There is a myth that these changes are a medium to predict the weather, but that is just an old wive’s tale.
  • Woolly bear caterpillars often move to warn spots to hibernate throughout the winter. Being exposed to cold temperatures will kill them. Therefore it is rare to spot them in winter. 
  • The adults are delicate. Even the slightest pressure can break their wings or kill them. 

How To Get Rid Of Isabella Tiger Moth?

Having woolly bears crawling around your garden and home might be somewhat dangerous for children in your home, as we mentioned earlier. 

Plus, they can also damage the plants in the garden. Here are a few hacks to deal with these insects:

Use pheromone traps

Pheromone traps are great to lure insects into a sticky pad where they get trapped. Once a few land on that pad, you can easily dispose of them and put the trap in a new position. 

To get the best results, Place these traps near the plants that these caterpillars feed on 

Use natural remedies

Vinegar is an excellent natural repellent for woolly bears. These insects do not like the smell of vinegar and often move away from it. 

Sprinkle a few drops in areas where they usually appear, and you are done. 

You can also pepper a pepper-garlic solution by mixing the pepper, garlic, and water. Spray this solution directly on the caterpillars; it will kill them slowly. 

Woolly Bear Caterpillar

Keep the porch lights off

Tiger moths are instantly attracted to light. Keep the porch lights off to prevent them from flying toward your house and settling in your dear garden.

Frequently Asked Questions

How long does an Isabella tiger moth live?

Isabella tiger moths don’t live long as adults. A healthy individual can live for 7-10 days. These adults spend most of their time mating. 
Once mating and egg-laying are done, these insects die. They can die much earlier due to attacks by predators. 

Is the Isabella tiger moth poisonous?

No, isabella tiger moths are not poisonous. But you must be aware that these insects secrete a foul-smelling liquid when they feel threatened. 
Directly touching this liquid can cause an allergic reaction in the human body and cause other problems like irritation and rashes. 

What do Isabella tiger moths do?

Isabella tiger moths spend most of their time mating. Once mating is done, the female searches for a secure location to lay the eggs. 
They select a place with plenty of food sources nearby. Soon after laying the eggs, these insects die. 

Are tiger moths poisonous to touch?

No tiger moths are not poisonous to touch, but that does not give a green signal to freely touch them without any safety gear. 
These moths secrete a foul-smelling fluid when they feel threatened. If you directly touch this liquid, it can trigger an allergic reaction in your body. 
Always wear safety gloves before grabbing or picking them up. 

Wrap Up

Many people know about woolly bear caterpillars, but only a few know that they grow up to become isabella tiger moths. 

These bright and colorful moths are very different from others that you might have seen.

Like other tiger moth species, these insects are also harmless until they feel threatened or in danger. 

To be safe around them, always wear gloves before touching them. Thank you for reading the article. 


  • Bugman

    Bugman aka Daniel Marlos has been identifying bugs since 1999. 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.

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  • 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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