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.
Scientific Classification Table
|Identification||Tan-yellow forewings with faint lines, tiny black spots, and orange hindwings.|
|Size||Around 2 inches|
|Wingspan Size||2 inches|
|Range||USA, Canada, Mexico|
|Life Cycle||Eggs, larvae, pupae, adults|
|Diet||Herbaceous plants and different varieties of grass|
|Conservation Status||G5 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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
- Paper birch
- Black walnut
- White oak
- American chestnut
- Smooth sumac
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.
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.
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.
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.
The isabella tiger moths are best known for their larval form, the woolly bear caterpillar.
While many legends abound about these caterpillars and their weather predicting capabilities, they are mostly just folk tales.
Over the years, several of our readers have shared with us photographs and experiences of meeting the adult version of the moth.
Since they are less well known, identifying them is more difficult for our readers.
Do go through some of these letters and watch these magnificent insects in their brief but colorful lifespan, flitting around their natural habitats.
Letter 1 – Isabella Tiger Moth
What is this caterpillar?
I have a few photos of a caterpillar I saw earlier this spring — March I think. I looked over your moth and caterpillar photos and did not see this one so I thought I’d pass it along. I hope this caterpillar was not blinded by my picture – I had to use a flash! This particular one was walking on the sidewalk so I used a stick to move it to safety. I’d like to think its off enjoying its little life now. Thank you for this site — I love it! I have always been fascinated by bugs and have really enjoyed photographing them lately.
This is a common Banded Wooly Bear. The adult is known as the Isabella Tiger Moth, Isia isabella. Legend has it that farmers can determine the severity of a winter based on the width of the brown center stripe.
Letter 2 – Diurnal Tiger Moth from Oregon
What kind of moth?
Location: Grants Pass, OR
August 16, 2011 12:40 pm
I live in the woods near Grants Pass, OR. This moth was seen in August, on a butterfly bush. Blue body, red/orange shoulders, black wings, feathered antenae. From end to end, it was about 1 inch long or slightly longer with wings folded. I haven’t ever seen it here before.
This is a diurnal Tiger Moth in the genus Ctenucha. Generally, unless a species is very distinctive or very range limited, we are happy if we can get an identification to the genus level. Since we are not professionally trained, sometimes a family will do, and in very difficult identifications like Mayflies or Solifugids, we are content with the order level. We found a reference on BugGuide to a Ctenucha from Oregon that looks very similar to your individual, and it is identified as rubroscapus/multifaria species complex. This identification remark has us very intrigued: “Identification
I heard back from Chris Schmidt today, and the bottom line is that all the characteristics mentioned are not consistent enough to be reliable. And he states they may actually be variations of one species. DNA analysis is forthcoming to determine as such. Here is what Chris stated:
“Hi Jason – the taxonomy of this group needs some work; I suspect rubroscapus and multifaria are slight geographic variants of the same species. The supposed diagnostic diff’s don’t hold up in series of specimens (even from the same place), since the extent of the black on the patagia and white on the costa are both variable. I can find no diff’s to reliably separate the two, although I suspect there would be subtle ‘average’ diff’s between topotypical series.”
Given that they are not distinguishable by appearance and cover the same general distribution, it may be best to lump rubroscapus/multifaria into a temporary species complex until the mtDNA analysis is presented and the systematics worked out.
… J.D. Roberts, 18 August, 2008″
We somehow think it is sad that we humans are so obsessed with species identification that we are having to resort to DNA analysis, which means killing and destroying a specimen. The insects and arthropods know how to recognize their own species and if their confusing appearances thwart we humans, there must be a good reason.
Well, that’s a lot of info. Genus level is certainly good enough for me!
Thank you for all your work. I am humbled by your efforts to help us less experienced and less educated folk out here bug watching. Thank you again; you guys are awesome.
Letter 3 – Diurnal Tiger Moth genus Ctenucha
Subject: Superman looking bug
Location: Laguna Canyon
July 16, 2012 9:45 pm
Hey there Bugman,
Went on a hike last month with my girlfriend and saw this little guy flying around. Looked like he was in costume, couldn’t identify him anywhere. Hoping you could help me.
This pretty diurnal Tiger Moth is in the genus Ctenucha and there are several similar looking species in California. Unfortunately, we are unable to ascertain from your photo which species you have submitted. You can see some nice photos on Bugguide.
Letter 4 – Astute Tiger from Zimbabwe
Subject: Moth or Butterfly?
January 29, 2014 7:00 am
Can you tell me what this is? Found in Zimbabwe, I’ve seen a few around, but can’t find them in any books.
We believe this is a diurnal Tiger Moth in the subfamily Arctiinae, but we are unable to verify that speculation with any documentation online. We will try contacting our friend and Arctiid specialist Julian Donahue, however he is currently traveling and we are not certain when he will return.
Julian Donahue Provides a Correction and a lead to an Identification: February 6, 2014
Just returned from India yesterday.
The moth is indeed a beauty, but I suspect that it’s either a geometrid or maybe an agaristine noctuid.
Try checking with LepSoc Africa for help with this one. You can post the photo to their Facebook page for an ID (https://www.facebook.com/LepSocAfrica/). Their website is at: http://www.lepsoc.org.za/
The President is Steve Woodhall: send the photo to him if you don’t want to go through Facebook.
Julian Donahue suggested I contact you regarding this identification which I thought might be an Arctiid. Do you recognize this lovely moth from Zimbabwe? I run a pop culture website called What’s That Bug? and this image was sent in last week. You can also view the posting if you want additional details.
Thank you for any help you are able to provide.
Steve Woodall provides the identification: Astute Tiger
This is Phaegorista agaristoides, the Astute Tiger (Noctuidae – Aganainae). It resembles the False Tiger moths that are in the Arctiinae (now a subfamily of Erebidae, in the Noctuoidea). Lepidopteran taxonomy and phylogeny is undergoing somewhat of a revolution right now and we can’t use the old families in Pinhey any more!
Thanks Steve. Goodness, a revolution sounds so bellicose.
Letter 5 – Diurnal Tiger Moths: Ctenucha multifaria
Subject: Black blue orange nectar eater
Geographic location of the bug: Laguna Beach California
Time: 05:39 PM EDT
Hello and thanks for wonderful website. Can you help me identify this, slightly bigger than an inch long, insect which I have never ever seen in Laguna, been here 50 years, and seeing many of these this week. Very fast moving, daytime flier. Best regards!
How you want your letter signed: Tanya
Thanks for your kind words. This is a diurnal Tiger Moth, Ctenucha multifaria, and we identified it thanks to this BugGuide descriptions: “Distal tip and entire costal edge of forewing narrowly white-marginned. Patagia** entirely black.” Diurnal Tiger Moths in the genus Ctenucha are very effective wasp mimics.
Letter 6 – Newly Emerged Isabella Tiger Moth
Subject: Recently emerged mith
Geographic location of the bug: Pennsylvania
Time: 12:05 PM EDT
Your letter to the bugman: What moth?
How you want your letter signed: Kathy
This is a newly emerged Isabella Tiger Moth, which you can verify thanks to this BugGuide image. The Isabella Tiger Moth is the adult of the Banded Woolly Bear.
Letter 7 – Diurnal Tiger Moth from Ecuador
Subject: Histioea in Ecuador
Geographic location of the bug: Archidona, Ecuador
Time: 01:05 AM EDT
Your letter to the bugman: Have what appears to be a rare Histioea, but cannot identify it. These are seldom photographed from what I can tell. The observation is https://www.inaturalist.org/ob
How you want your letter signed: Trevor
We have several diurnal Tiger Moths in our archives identified as Histioea meldolae, including this individual from Colombia and this individual from Costa Rica. We will forward your image to Arctiid expert Julian Donahue to see what he can provide in the way of an identification.
Julian Donahue responds.
This is a perfect match for the female of the euchromiine Histioea paulina Walker, 1866, as figured in Seitz, described from São Paulo, Brazil–a long way from Ecuador, but I don’t have any information on the distribution of the species.