Magpie Moth: All You Need to Know in a Nutshell

The Magpie Moth is a fascinating species that has piqued the interest of many enthusiasts and researchers. These moths boast unique patterns on their wings, sporting a combination of black, white, and sometimes yellow markings. As a result, they easily stand out against the more common moth species found in many regions.

While the name “Magpie Moth” might remind some people of the intelligent and beautiful black-billed magpie bird, it is essential to distinguish the two. Moths belong to a completely different family; their primary purpose is pollination and serving as a food source to other species, whereas magpies belong to the bird family, specifically the Covidae, which also includes ravens, crows, and jays.

Magpie Moth Overview

Physical Characteristics

The Magpie Moth (Abraxas grossulariata) is a visually striking species, easily recognized by its distinct black and white colouration. This unique pattern not only makes these moths stand out but also serves as a form of natural camouflage. The moths’ wings feature bold patches of black on a white background, resembling the appearance of a magpie bird.

Taxonomy and Classification

The Magpie Moth falls under the kingdom Animalia and belongs to the phylum Arthropoda, which encompasses insects and other joint-legged invertebrates. Within the Arthropoda phylum, Magpie Moths are classified under the class Insecta, and further categorized as members of the order Lepidoptera alongside other butterflies and moths. Finally, the Magpie Moth is part of the Geometridae family, with its binomial name being Abraxas grossulariata.

Here’s a brief comparison table of Magpie Moth’s classification:

Classification Level Name
Kingdom Animalia
Phylum Arthropoda
Class Insecta
Order Lepidoptera
Family Geometridae
Species A. grossulariata

The Magpie Moth is notable for its unique physical characteristics and taxonomy. As mentioned, its black and white colouration sets it apart from other moths, and being a member of the Lepidoptera order links it to the wider group of butterflies and moths. The association with the Geometridae family emphasizes its connection to the geometrid moths, characterized by their slender bodies and unique flying patterns.

Life Cycle and Behavior


  • Magpie moth (Nyctemera annulata) typically lay their eggs in warm locations.
  • They are laid on the underside of leaves on their host plants, for safety and easy access to food for the caterpillars.

Caterpillar Stage

  • Once the eggs hatch, the caterpillars begin feeding on the host plant.
  • These caterpillars are generally covered in hair and have bright black and yellow markings.
  • As they grow, the caterpillars will molt several times before moving on to the pupa stage.

Pupa Stage

  • Caterpillars then spin a cocoon to protect themselves.
  • Inside the cocoon, the caterpillar transforms into an adult magpie moth.
  • The pupa stage usually lasts about 2 weeks, depending on the weather conditions.

Adult Stage

  • Adult magpie moths have a distinctive black and white appearance.
  • They have a wingspan of around 40mm.
  • Unlike many other moth species, they are diurnal and are active during the day.
  • Adults feed on nectar from flowers.

Characteristics of the Magpie Moth

  • Complete one generation per year
  • Lay eggs on the host plant
  • Caterpillar stage lasts several weeks
  • Pupa stage takes about 2 weeks
  • Adult moths are diurnal and have a distinctive black and white coloring

Comparison: Magpie Moth vs. Other Moths

Features Magpie Moth Other Moths
Appearance Black & white markings Varies, often dull-colored
Activity Diurnal (daytime) Mainly nocturnal (nighttime)
Caterpillar markings Bright black and yellow Can be plain or patterned
Pupa stage duration Approximately 2 weeks Varies by species, can be longer
Generations per year One generation a year Some species have multiple generations per year


  • Black and white markings
  • Diurnal activity
  • Bright black and yellow caterpillar markings
  • One generation per year
  • Host-based egg laying

Pros & Cons:


  • Bright caterpillar stage helps deter predators
  • Diurnal activity makes it easier to study and observe


  • Single generation per year limits population growth
  • Sensitivity to weather conditions can impact survival rates.

Habitat and Distribution

Geographical Range

The Magpie Moth (Abraxas grossulariata) can be found in various regions across the globe, including parts of Europe, North America, Asia, and Australia. However, they are more commonly found in the United Kingdom, specifically in England, Scotland, Wales, and Ireland.

Preferred Habitats

Magpie Moths have a preference for diverse habitats, ranging from woodland and heather moorland to hedgerows. Some of the plant species they are associated with include:

  • Corylus (hazel)
  • Prunus spinosa (blackthorn)
  • Crataegus (hawthorn)
  • Ribes (currant)
  • Salix (willow)
  • Gooseberry
  • Euonymus europaeus (European spindle)

Here’s a brief comparison table of common host plants for Magpie Moths:

Plant Species Common Name
Corylus Hazel
Prunus spinosa Blackthorn
Crataegus Hawthorn
Ribes Currant
Salix Willow
Gooseberry Gooseberry
Euonymus europaeus European spindle

Magpie Moths can adapt to various environments, considering the wide range of host plants they utilize for seeking shelter and laying eggs.

Feeding and Host Plants

Caterpillars’ Diet

  • Magpie moth caterpillars mainly feed on a variety of host plants such as cineraria, groundsel, and leaves of some fruit trees.
  • These larvae also consume ribes rubrum (currant), blackthorn, and plants that are important for wildlife.

Short Comparison Table:

Host Plant Preferability for Caterpillars
Cineraria Highly Preferred
Groundsel Preferred
Ribes Rubrum Moderate
Blackthorn Moderate

Adult Moths’ Diet

  • Adult magpie moths, like other moths, pollinate flowers and seek nectar.
  • They often visit pale or white flowers with a strong fragrance, especially during night time.

Conservation Status and Threats

Conservation Measures

The conservation status of magpie moths is not explicitly mentioned in the search results. However, the Birds of Conservation Concern 2021 list identifies bird species requiring conservation efforts. This could be a helpful starting point for understanding trends and measures for similar species.

  • Focus on habitat preservation
  • Monitoring and management of populations
  • Partnering with organizations for funding and resources

Natural Predators

Magpie moths, like other insects, have numerous natural predators. Some examples include:

  • Birds: consume moths as a food source
  • Bats: known to feed on various moth species
  • Insect-eating mammals: may prey on moths as part of their diet
Predator Threat to Magpie Moths
Birds High
Bats Moderate
Mammals Low

Understanding the relationship between magpie moths and their predators helps inform conservation efforts, ensuring a balanced ecosystem.

Magpie Moth Identification and Research

Identifying Magpie Moths

The Magpie moth (Abraxas grossulariata) can be identified by its unique wing pattern, featuring a mix of black and white markings, with a body covered in small black and yellow spots. These moths have a wingspan range between 30-45mm. Some features to help identify Magpie Moths include:

  • Black and white wing markings
  • Body covered in black and yellow spots
  • Wingspan range: 30-45mm

Research and Citizen Science

Magpie Moth research can be conducted using various resources, such as the PNW Moths website, which provides a free Android app for identifying over 1,200 moth species based on easy-to-use features. A comparison of different moth identification resources can be seen in the table below:

Resource Features Pros Cons
PNW Moths Android app, 1,200+ species Free, user-friendly Android only, regional
Moth Photographers Group Online plates series Visuals, wide variety Web-based, not interactive

Participating in citizen science initiatives, such as National Moth Week, can also contribute to Magpie Moth research. These events provide opportunities to:

  • Join or host moth-related events
  • Observe and record moth species
  • Collaborate with other moth enthusiasts and researchers

Related Species

The Magpie Moth belongs to the family Geometridae, and there are other interesting species you might want to learn about:

  • Small Magpie (Anania hortulata): This moth is part of the Crambidae family, quite different from the Magpie Moth. The Small Magpie has a distinct black and white pattern on its wings, while the Magpie Moth exhibits a more intricate pattern 1.

  • Nyctemera annulata: Also known as the White-spotted Tiger Moth, Nyctemera annulata is not in the Geometridae family but rather the Erebidae family 2. This moth has striking black and white markings on its forewings, contrasting with the colorful hindwings.

It is worth mentioning that magpie moths, as well as other related species, are distinct from butterflies:

  • Butterflies: In general, butterflies have club-shaped antennae, while moths have feathery or saw-edged antennae 3. Butterflies are typically active during the day with more vibrant colors, while moths are usually active at night and exhibit subtle colorations.

Some other families in the order Lepidoptera include Umbers and Woolly Bears:

  • Umbers (family Geometridae): These moths are relatively large, with a wingspan of 40-60 mm. They have dull, cryptic coloration, which helps them blend in with their surroundings 4.

  • Woolly Bears (family Erebidae): These caterpillars are known for their fuzzy appearance, with dense hairs covering their bodies 5. They grow into adult moths, commonly called Tiger Moths, which possess bold patterns and colors.

In summary, the Magpie Moth, Small Magpie, Nyctemera annulata, butterflies, Umbers, and Woolly Bears all have unique characteristics, behaviors, and appearances. Understanding their differences can help further appreciate the diversity within the Lepidoptera order.

Fascinating Facts

The Magpie Moth is a visually striking insect known for its attractive appearance and interesting behaviors. Here are some fascinating facts about this unique creature.

  • Magpie Moths often reside in gardens and can be found on various plants, including mints, ragwort, and members of the senecio family.
  • They have a distinctive yellow and black color pattern, resembling their namesake, the magpie bird.
  • The life cycle of the Magpie Moth includes a cocoon stage, during which they pupate. This process takes place on plants such as privet.
  • During the overwintering period, Magpie Moth caterpillars have a unique survival strategy where they can freeze themselves to withstand cold temperatures.
  • Apart from gardens, these moths can sometimes be found creating protective webs on plants.

Some notable features of the Magpie Moth include:

  • Distinctive yellow and black markings
  • Attractive appearance
  • Ability to overwinter as caterpillars by freezing themselves
  • Preference for gardens and various plants

Their unique characteristics make them an interesting species for garden enthusiasts, nature lovers, and those studying insects.







Reader Emails

Over the years, our website, has received hundreds of letters and some interesting images asking us about these insects. Scroll down to have a look at some of them.

Letter 1 – Magpie Moth from England


Subject:  Moth identification
Geographic location of the bug:  Herefordshire
Date: 08/06/2018
Time: 10:33 AM EDT
Your letter to the bugman:  Hi,
I recently have had a lot of moths in my house, all of which different sizes and colours. This one however caught my eye after entering our house late at night after we left our bathroom light on!
I’m wondering if you have ever seen one with this distinct ‘leopard print’?
How you want your letter signed:  However easiest

Magpie Moth

This is a very easy ID for us because we recently misidentified a freshly eclosed Magpie Moth, mistaking it for a Tiger Moth.  According to UK Moths:  “A very distinctive species, this was a favourite with early collectors, who used to breed it to obtain unusual coloured and patterned forms.  Quite common in most of Britain, though less so in Scotland. … The moths fly in July and August and are regularly attracted to light.”

Thank you so much for your time and reply Daniel, that’s absolutely brilliant!!

Letter 2 – Magpie Moth from Australia


Arctiidae Nyctemera secundiana
Hi guys,
Hope you like this pic of Arctiidae Nyctemera secundiana. T his is called the Magpie Moth here in Queensland. There are other moths given the same common name in this family as well. Taken on the Gold Coast 20th January 2008. Some great pics being posted on your site lately, cudos to digital cameras getting better and better. regards,
Trevor Jinks

Hi Trevor,
Thanks for sending us your image of a Magpie Moth. Wikipedia also names several other species with the same common name. The ubiquity of the digital camera has been a boon to our submissions.

Letter 3 – Small Magpie Moth


Subject:  Unknown Moth
Geographic location of the bug:  Olympia, Washington
Date: 03/28/2018
Time: 10:46 PM EDT
Your letter to the bugman:  I am normally very knowledgeable when it comes to insect identification. However, my friend sent me this image and it has me stumped. I know for sure that it is some type of moth, but beyond that, I’m at a loss.
How you want your letter signed:  Micah

Small Magpie Moth

Dear Micah,
This sure looks to us like a Tiger Moth in the subfamily Arctiinae, but we cannot locate any similar looking moths on the Pacific Northwest Moths site nor on BugGuide’s images of North American Tiger Moths.  It is possible we have the subfamily incorrect, but it is still not pictured on the former site.  We have written to Arctiid expert Julian Donahue and we are still waiting to hear back from him.  Until then, we will tag it as unidentified.

Facebook Comment from Joan Brehm Rickert:
Looks like a Small Magpie Moth. Anania hortulata. They are present in that area.

Thanks to that comment, we have verified the identity is correct on BugGuide where it states:  “native to Eurasia, North American distribution seems patchy and not well known (as of May 2013, BugGuide has photos from British Columbia, Washington, Oregon, Wisconsin, Michigan, Ontario, Quebec, New York, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Maine, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island and Nova Scotia). Any additional info appreciated.” 

Letter 4 – Small Magpie Moth


Small Magpie Moth, top & bottom
Jul 16, 2010
Location:  Edmonds, Washington
Hi Daniel, a few days ago I sent these 2 pics to you asking for ID help (I think I called it a butterfly at that time). I finally got lucky on BugGuide and have identified it as Eurrhypara hortulata, Small Magpie Moth, an alien species in the U.S. from Eurasia. I did not see that you had any pics of this moth so thought I’d resubmit them to you (with the ID this time). Hope they are useful. It is very small but rather a pretty little thing. What amazes me are the spikes on the legs, which I did not notice until I looked at the photos on my computer. I did let the moth go after taking the pictures because I did not know whether it was friend or foe to my organic garden, but didn’t feel good keeping it in the jar too long. I have seen several of these over the past 2 months, in my garden, which is where I caught this moth on July 10th.
By the way, I really like your new format, especially the links across the top instead of having to scroll down and down thru interesting but already-read material. Very nice!
Cheers, Dee

Small Magpie Moth

Hi Dee,
Thanks so much for taking the time to resubmit your images with an identification.  We have been very busy lately and we are intolerably behind in responding to identification requests.  As always, we are only able to answer a small fraction of the mail we receive.  This past week has included several personal and professional commitments that have further impacted our ability to write back to people.  We needed to spend July 15 working on the final pass of the designed pages of the book, and that needed to be submitted by Friday morning.  To further complicate our lives, we bought three young Aracauna hens, seven weeks old, to put in the chicken coop we have been building this summer.  We have been spending time with our chickens when we could be typing on the computer, but somehow, the outdoors is so much more appealing right now.  There might soon be a chicken blog on WTB? as well as the Aquarium blog.  We stumbled across your letter while searching through some backlogged mail because we were trying to locate a letter with a Golden Buprestid subject line that we did not open, and your letter was a pleasant surprise.  We are thrilled to post these images of a Small Magpie Moth,
Eurrhypara hortulata, and we will link to the BugGuide information page on the species.

Small Magpie Moth

P.S.  Thanks for the compliment on the new website format.  Our webmaster has been working overtime making things more efficient.

Small Magpie Moth – and your hens
Daniel, Glad you found the pics of interest.  I know you folks are busy, so I didn’t mind resubmitting, especially since I didn’t need ID help anymore and didn’t want you to waste time when you got around to it.  Congrats on acquiring your chickens…Blue Eggs and Ham??  Now you won’t be the only ones at your house that are interested in bugs… but seriously, that’s really nice.  Our town just this winter okayed letting people keep a few hens, so maybe some day.  If you blog about them, I’ll be interested to follow your experiences.  Cheers, Dee

OK Dee,
I think it is time for the Official WTB? Mt. Washington, Los Angeles Blog with subcategories of aquaria and chickens as well as the few insects I have actually photographed myself on the WTB? website.

Letter 5 – Small Magpie Moth


Subject:  Moth ?
Geographic location of the bug:  Fremont , Michigan
Date: 06/19/2020
Time: 04:07 PM EDT
Your letter to the bugman:  I found this beauty on our siding. Wondering what it is.
How you want your letter signed:  Pam

Small Magpie

Dear Pam,
Your pretty little Crambid Moth,
Anania hortulata, is commonly called a Small Magpie, Anania hortulata (formerly Eurrhypara hortulata), and we confirmed its identity on BugGuide. According to BugGuide it is an introduced Eurasian species and: “Larvae feed mainly on nettle (Urtica spp.), but mint (Mentha spp.) and bindweed (Convolvulus spp.) are also used.”

Letter 6 – The Magpie


Subject: Pretty moth, what is it?
Location: cornwall
July 26, 2012 5:37 pm
Thought this was very pretty reminded me of a Vulcan bomber, haven’t a clue what insect it is, any idea? image url
Signature: hazel

The Magpie

Hi Hazel,
We identified your Geometrid Moth as The Magpie using the UK Moths website which states:  “A very distinctive species, this was a favourite with early collectors, who used to breed it to obtain unusual coloured and patterned forms.”

Letter 7 – Unknown Moth from Ecuador is The Magician


Ecuadorian hawkmoth
Location:  Ecuador
October 17, 2010 6:38 pm
I photographed this stunning hawkmoth at Cabanas San Isidro on the east slope of the Andes on July 4, 2002. Any idea what species it might be?
Signature:  Allen Chartier

Unknown Moth from Ecuador

Dear Allen,
This is a stunning moth, but we are not certain it is a Hawkmoth in the family Sphingidae.  The head appears different from most Hawkmoths.  We have an important writing deadline to meet this evening, so we need to stop trying to identify this moth for the moment.  In our initial attempts, we were unable to identify this species on the Sphingidae of Ecuador web page on Bill Oehlke’s awesome Sphingidae of the Americas website in a quick search.  We will contact Bill Oehlke to see if he can provide any information.  Our readership might have ideas as well.

Thanks! No hurry…I’ve had this photo for three years. I also have a number of other unidentified moths on my website from the same locale and trip to Ecuador. If anyone is interested in identifying them too, at their own convenience, I’d really appreciate it and would be willing to upload any of them to
What’s That Bug?
Go to: and scroll down to the South America section…
Allen T. Chartier

Identification Courtesy of Karl
December 14, 2012
Hi Daniel:
This one goes back some, but I came across an online photo recently as I was identifying some of my own moth photos from Ecuador and I immediately recognized it as one I had once tried (unsuccessfully) to identify for WTB. This is not a sphingid, but rather a geometrid moth. The common name appears to be ‘The Magician’, although it seems too obscure to have a common name. The scientific name is Monarcha magicaria (Geometridae: Larentiinae). I also found it as Psaliodes magicaria (again, subfamily Larentiinae), but I was not able to determine which generic designation is currently valid for this species. As far as I can tell it occurs only in Ecuador. Regards.  Karl

Thanks again Karl for your assistance with The Magician.




  • Daniel Marlos

    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.

  • 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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