Police Car Moth: Essential Facts and Identification Tips

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Police Car Moth is a fascinating topic that captures the interest of many people. This insect is known for its unique and vibrant colors, making it easy to recognize and distinguish from other types of moths. In this article, we’ll dive into everything you need to know about Police Car Moth, from its appearance and habitat to its behavior and significance in the ecosystem.

To kick things off, let’s discuss the distinctive appearance of the Police Car Moth. It has a black body with red or orange markings, resembling the flashing lights of a police car, which is how it got its name. These moths are usually found in North America, particularly in the United States and Canada, where they inhabit forests, meadows, and gardens.

We’ll also explore the various aspects of Police Car Moth behavior. These moths are nocturnal creatures that are especially attracted to bright lights. During the day, they rest on trees and plants, camouflaging themselves against potential predators. Their diet mainly consists of nectar from flowers, making them essential pollinators in their ecosystems.

Overview of Police Car Moth

Gnophaela Vermiculata

Gnophaela vermiculata, also known as the Police Car Moth, is a species of moth native to western North America. They are mostly active during the day and have a wingspan of about 40mm.

  • Features:
    • Distinct black and yellow pattern resembling a police car.
    • Usually active during daytime.

Family Erebidae

The Police Car Moth belongs to the Erebidae family, which includes both moths and some butterflies. Erebidae has more than 25,000 known species across the world.

  • Characteristics:
    • Diverse group of mostly nocturnal insects
    • Some species are diurnal, like the Police Car Moth.

Tiger Moths

Tiger moths are a subfamily of Erebidae known as Arctiinae. Police Car Moth is one of the tiger moths, and its scientific classification is Hodges#8037.

  • Features:
    • Brightly colored patterns
    • Some produce defensive chemicals to deter predators.

Here’s a comparison between Police Car Moth and other tiger moths:

Feature Police Car Moth Other Tiger Moths
Color Black and yellow Various colors, usually bright and contrasting
Activity Time Daytime Mostly nocturnal, some daytime
Habitat Western North America, from New Mexico to BC Diverse habitats, depending on species, worldwide

In summary, the Police Car Moth is a fascinating and unique member of the Erebidae family. It stands out with its striking black and yellow pattern, daytime activity, and its membership in the diverse group of tiger moths.

Distribution and Habitat

United States and Canada

The Police Car Moth (Gnophaela latipennis), also known as Alypia, is native to western North America, specifically the United States and Canada. In Canada, it can be found in provinces such as British Columbia, Alberta, and Manitoba.

Rocky Mountain Region

The Police Car Moth prefers habitats in the Rocky Mountain region like:

  • Montana
  • Utah
  • Colorado

Open Wooded Areas

Gnophaela latipennis commonly inhabits:

  • Open, wooded areas
  • Foothills
  • Mountains

These moths are typically found in favorable environments where their camouflage patterns help them blend with their surroundings.

Key Features:

  • Distinct black and white pattern on wings resembling a police car
  • Wingspan: 25-35 mm

Habitat Characteristics:

  • Elevation: Found in elevations from 2000 to 11,000 ft
  • Vegetation: Prefers areas with ample nectar sources
Region States/Provinces Habitat
United States Montana, Utah, Colorado Open wooded areas, foothills
Canada British Columbia, Alberta, Manitoba Mountains, open wooded regions

While other moth species may have similar patterns or appearance, the Police Car Moth’s distinct black and white pattern and habitat preferences make it unique among North American moths.

Diet and Feeding Habits

Nectar-Feeding Patterns

The Police Car Moth primarily feeds on nectar from flowers. These moths are most active during late summer, when their preferred food sources are abundant.

  • Active during late summer
  • Mostly feeds on nectar

Preferred Flowers

Police Car Moths have specific preferences when it comes to the flowers they feed on. Some of their favorite flowers include Mertensia (lungwort), Cirsium (thistles), Solidago (goldenrod), Lithospermum spp (puccoon), and Hackelia spp (stickseed).

Comparison table: Flowers preferred by Police Car Moths

Flower Family Season
Mertensia Boraginaceae Spring
Cirsium spp Asteraceae Summer to fall
Solidago spp Asteraceae Late summer to fall
Lithospermum spp Boraginaceae Spring to summer
Hackelia spp Boraginaceae Spring to summer

These moths prefer to feed on herbaceous flowers, like bluebells and green lattice, especially during their larval stage.

  • Feed on herbaceous flowers during the larval stage
  • Preference for bluebells and green lattice

Life Cycle and Reproduction

Generational Timeline

  • Egg stage: The female moth lays 40-50 eggs during a 2-3 week period.
  • Larval stage: Lasts three months to multiple years before pupation.
  • Pupation: Occurs in a high place, such as walls or ceilings.
  • Adult stage: Mating and laying eggs for the next generation.

Some key factors in the Police Car Moth’s life cycle and reproduction include:

  • Multiple generations per year: In warmer climates, there might be more than one generation of Police Car Moths per year.
  • Females die after egg-laying: Female moths typically die after completing the egg-laying process.
Life Stage Duration
Egg 2-3 weeks
Larvae 3 months to multiple years
Pupation Varies
Adult Depends on climate

Late Summer Dynamics

During late summer, the following behaviors and factors contribute to generational succession in Police Car Moths:

  • Increased late-season flights: Adult Police Car Moths fly and mate later in the season as temperatures rise, producing more eggs for subsequent generations.
  • Higher temperatures: Can contribute to an increase in the number of generations per year, leading to more moths overall.
  • Later diapause phase entry: Warmer late summer temperatures can delay the entry into a resting stage, known as diapause, providing more time for the moths to mate and lay eggs.

Physical Characteristics

Wing Pattern

The Police Car Moth has a distinctive wing pattern that features:

  • Bold and contrasting colors
  • A symmetrical design on both forewings and hindwings
  • Pale areas near the forewing margins

This unique pattern makes the moth easily recognizable and distinguishes it from other species.


Coloration in the Police Car Moth varies but generally includes:

  • Black and white base colors
  • Red or orange accents, found on both forewings and hindwings
  • Occasional blue tint near wing tips

These colors play a key role in warning potential predators of the moth’s unpalatability.

Size Range

The size range of Police Car Moths falls within these bounds:

  • Wingspan: 4 to 6 centimeters
  • Body length: 2 to 3 centimeters

Size can vary depending on factors such as age, diet, and environmental conditions.

Comparison Table

Features Police Car Moth Other Moths
Wing Pattern Bold and symmetrical Can vary greatly
Coloration Black, white, and red/orange Wide range of colors
Size Range 4-6 cm wingspan, 2-3 cm body length Varies by species

The physical characteristics of the Police Car Moth make it an intriguing and easily identifiable species in the world of moths.

Historical and Scientific Background

Augustus Radcliffe Grote

Augustus Radcliffe Grote was a British-American entomologist. He made significant contributions to the classification of moths and butterflies in North America.

Naming and Classification

The Police Car Moth, scientifically named Gnophaela vermiculata, belongs to the family Erebidae and subfamily Arctiinae. This unique species features distinct black and red coloration, similar to a classic police car’s appearance.

  • Features:
    • Bright red and black coloration
    • Medium-sized moth
    • Wingspan: 40-50mm
    • Active during the day
  • Characteristics:
    • Attracts attention with its bold colors
    • Can be found in western North America
    • Prefers mountain meadows and open forests
    • Uses its striking colors as a warning to potential predators

Comparison of Police Car Moth and another Arctiinae moth species (Anania funebris):

Feature Police Car Moth (Gnophaela vermiculata) Anania funebris
Color Bright red and black Dark black and gray
Size Medium (40-50mm wingspan) Small (24-36mm wingspan)
Activity Diurnal (active during the day) Nocturnal (active at night)
Preferred Habitat Mountain meadows and open forests Deciduous forests and woodlands
Range Western North America Eastern North America

Reader Emails

Over the years, our website, whatsthatbug.com 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 – Police Car Moth


Butterfly Identification
I’ve had no luck identifying this butterfly so far. I photographed it about a couple of weeks ago at Lower Walton Lake in the Bitterroot Mountains, Clearwater National Forest, Idaho. I’d appreciate any information you can give me about it.
Bill Rich

Hi Bill,
A big reason your efforts to identify this Police Car Moth, Gnophaela vermiculata, were thwarted is that perhaps you didn’t realize there are many day flying moths. The Police Car Moth is a member of the Tiger Moth Family. Also known as the Green Latice, according to BugGuide, this moth is frequently seen taking nectar from flowers including goldenrod and thistle as well as the aster shown in your photo.

Letter 2 – Police Car Moth


Black and white moth/butterfly
Location:  Flagstaff, Northern Arizona
August 20, 2010 11:14 pm
Hi, I live in Flagstaff, AZ. First off, I love your site; my son and I have enjoyed researching bugs here for years. So, we were hiking on Lower Hart Prairie at the base of the San Francisco peaks and just like last year, saw many of these. They flutter and land around the lupine and yarrow. We would love to know what it is.
CoffeeSally Coe

Police Car Moth

Hi CoffeeSally,
Your moth is in the genus
Gnophaela, and according to BugGuide, there are five similar looking species, but only Gnophaela vermiculata has a common name, and it is a good one.  The black and white moth Gnophaela vermiculata is commonly called the Police Car Moth according to Bugguide.  It is a diurnal species found in western North America at higher altitudes and it flies in July and August, information that is very consistent with your account.  While a lepidopterist might need to examine the specimen to properly identify the species, we are so enamored of the common name Police Car Moth that we are content to identify your moth as that species.

Letter 3 – SOUND THE SIREN: Our 15,000th posting is the Police Car Moth


Subject: black and white butterfly
Location: Colorado
July 23, 2012 8:34 pm
Hi! A friend in Colorado sent me this pic for id. I think it is a butterfly, although it is difficult to see the antennae. It could be a moth. Do you know what this is? Also, is the beetle a blister beetle? Thanks!
Signature: buggirl

Police Car Moth

Hi buggirl,
This diurnal Tiger Moth,
 Gnophaela vermiculata, is commonly called a Police Car Moth.  According to BugGuide its habitat is:  “Typically foothills, mountain ranges, mid-elevations.”  There is not enough detail to identify the beetle, but it doesn’t appear to be a Blister Beetle.

Ed. Note:  July 25, 2012
We just realized after the fact that this is the 15,000 posting for the website.  What a milestone!!!!

Letter 4 – Police Car Moth


Subject: Unknown Alypia Forester Moth
Location: western Montana
July 28, 2014 2:04 pm
Can anyone ID this Alypia? I’ve gone through 4 different species, but the pattern of white patches does not match well to any of them. This photo was taken on July 28th, 2014 in western Montana. It was nectaring on Brassica weed flowers in open coniferous forest at approximately 3,400′.
Signature: Jeremy Roberts

Police Car Moth
Police Car Moth

Hi Jeremy,
While your moth bears a superficial resemblance to the Forester Moths in the genus
Alypia, the reason you had so much difficulty with a species identification is that your moth is in a different family.  This is a Police Car Moth, Gnophaela vermiculata,  According to BugGuide, the range is “southern British Columbia south to Oregon, northeastern Nevada, Utah, Colorado, and northern New Mexico” and it is found in “Typically foothills, mountain ranges, mid-elevations.”  As there are other similar looking members of the genus, we cannot say with 100% certainty that this is not a close relative of the Police Car Moth.

Thank you!  Indeed, I feel into a trap of my own making.  Police Car Moth it is.  And just in time for National Moth Week!
Thanks again for throwing down a rope.  I’m excited to plant some host plants in the yard now.

You are most welcome Jeremy.  WTB? has co-sponsored a National Moth Week event with the MWHA in our local Elyria Canyon Park in 2012 and 2013, but that is not the ideal time for moth viewing in Southern California, so we are going rogue this year and having a local event when moths are more plentiful.

Letter 5 – Police Car Moth


Subject: Daylight moth?
Location: Helena, Montana
July 31, 2017 11:51 am
Lived in montana all my life. Never seen a moth or butterfly like this one… Doesn’t seem to classify as butterfly or moth clearly.
Reminds me of a cinnabar (red tansy) moth in movement.
Anyone know?
Signature: CandidKlutz

Police Car Moth

Dear Candidklutz,
This diurnal beauty is a Police Car Moth,
Gnophaela vermiculata, and according to BugGuide:  “Adults fly during the day in late summer, July-August (Alberta)” and “Larvae feed on bluebells [lungwort] (Mertensia spp.), puccoon (Lithospermum spp.) and stickseed (Hackelia spp.).  Adults feed during the day on nectar of herbaceous flowers such as thistle (Cirsium spp.) and goldenrod (Solidago spp.)”

Letter 6 – Police Car Moth


Subject:  Black and white moth
Geographic location of the bug:  Cheyenne Mountain State Park near Colorado Springs, Colorado
Date: 07/20/2019
Time: 09:45 PM EDT
Your letter to the bugman:  I saw this moth fluttering somewhat weakly along a trail 7-20-19 on a 90 degree day in scrub oak/ponderosa foothills area in the park.  Immediately after I took the photo it was attacked by a hornet, but after a brief struggle the two separated and when their separate ways. I can’t seem to find any photos that are even close.  I think it might be a type of tiger moth or wasp moth, but I can’t seem to find anything that fits.
How you want your letter signed:  Anne

Time: 09:57 PM EDT
Your letter to the bugman: 
I guess I should have looked at your website more thoroughly before I submitted a question.  You have some lovely photos of Police Car moths that are obviously what my submission was.  Please feel free to disregard the query.
How you want your letter signed:  Anne

Diurnal Police Car Moth

Dear Anne,
We are so happy you were able to identify this diurnal Police Car Moth on our site in 12 minutes and then write back to inform us to take your query off the queue.  To be quite frank, we don’t follow a queue that strictly, and letters with interesting subject lines often catch our eye regardless of their place in line.  Seeing that you wrote back to us before we were able to respond was another reason we selected your submission to read on a Sunday.  It was a pleasure reading your submission and we enjoyed cropping and resizing your image for the internet and we were careful to include as much of the plant as possible for identification purposes.  According to Montana Field Guides:  “The larvae feed on the foliage and flowers of Mertensia (bluebells). Adults nectar sources such as Cirsium(thistle) and Solidago species (goldenrod) (Coin 2004).”  The fact that the Police Car Moth nectars is a good indication it has a longer lifespan, and so more time to locate a mate and distribute eggs.     

Letter 7 – Police Car Moth on Goldenrod


Subject: One Left!
Location: Lion Gulch Trail Lyons CO
October 11, 2016 3:33 pm
Birdwatcher here, spent the better part of a lovely snowy afternoon identifying butterflies I’ve picked up along the way. I’m down to one critter, a moth I think, and no matter how general or specific I make my searches, and on all the websites, have I found my answer.
Attached is a photo of said critter, taken July 25, 2010 at Lion Gulch Trail outside of Lyons, CO.
Any information is appreciated, have a wonderful evening!
Signature: Tina Toth

Police Car Moth
Police Car Moth

Dear Tina,
This is a Police Car Moth,
Gnophaela vermiculata, and you can verify its identity on BugGuide where its habitat is listed as “Typically foothills, mountain ranges, mid-elevations” and “Adults fly during the day in late summer, July-August.”  BugGuide also notes:  “Adults feed during the day on nectar of herbaceous flowers such as thistle (Cirsium spp.) and goldenrod (Solidago spp.)” and since your individual is nectaring on Goldenrod, we are thrilled to be able to tag this posting with Goldenrod Meadow.

Outstanding! On top of just being happy to know what it is, I love the name! I’m thrilled too, and thank you ever so much!


  • 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.

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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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