The Salt Marsh Moth: Exploring Its Traits, Habitat, and Behavior

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The Salt Marsh Moth is a fascinating creature you might have come across in your garden or near coastal areas. Known for its striking white color, adorned with small black spots, this moth is a remarkable sight to behold. An interesting tidbit is that male moths have a vibrant yellow-orange hindwing, which sets them apart from their female counterparts.

As you explore nature, understanding the habitat and behavior of these moths can enrich your experience. They typically reside in coastal regions and are particularly drawn to vegetation near salt marshes. During their active hours, they’re known to pollinate flowers while seeking the nourishment of nectar.

So, the next time you venture into the outdoors, remember to keep an eye out for these mesmerizing creatures. By taking a moment to observe the Salt Marsh Moth, you’ll gain a greater appreciation for the diverse ecosystem in which you live. Happy exploring!

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Identification and Description

The Salt Marsh Moth, scientifically known as Estigmene acrea, is a visually striking insect that you may encounter in various habitats. To identify this moth, pay attention to its distinctive features:

  • Color: Adults are generally white with black spots on the wings, while the head and thorax are also white. The abdomen is orangish-yellow. Caterpillars exhibit a mottled appearance with yellow and brown.
  • Wings: Both forewings and hindwings have bold black spots. Salt Marsh Moth forewings have dark markings or lines, while hindwings are mostly plain with three or four black spots.

The wingspan of an adult Salt Marsh Moth ranges from approximately 45 to 68 mm. Males and females can be differentiated by the white tip at the end of a female’s abdomen.

Caterpillars of the Estigmene acrea species have a woolly appearance, showcasing long, bristly hairs arising from orange or black raised spots. These hairs give the caterpillar a slightly intimidating appearance compared to other species.

In summary, when identifying a Salt Marsh Moth, look for the following characteristics:

  • White wings with black spots and dark markings
  • Orangish-yellow abdomen
  • Woolly, mottled caterpillars with long bristles

Keep an eye out for these distinct features, and you’ll quickly become an expert at spotting these fascinating moths in your natural surroundings.

Distribution and Habitat

The Salt Marsh Moth is commonly found throughout North America, including Mexico and Canada. Its habitat mainly revolves around salt marshes, where it thrives in the unique environment. In this section, you’ll learn about the distribution and habitat of the Salt Marsh Moth.

Salt marshes are special ecosystems found in tidal areas near the coast, usually protected from the open ocean’s full force. The environment is characterized by a mix of freshwater and saltwater, creating a home for salt-tolerant plants and animals like the Salt Marsh Moth. Some notable features of salt marshes include:

  • Variable salinity levels
  • Occasional flooding by tides
  • Salt-tolerant plants like pickleweed

Given the moth’s widespread presence, it can be found across various regions. Some examples of places you may encounter the Salt Marsh Moth are:

  • Coastal areas along the United States’ Atlantic and Pacific coasts
  • Eastern Canada salt marsh habitats
  • Mexican coastal regions with salt marsh environments

Settling in these salt marshes, the Salt Marsh Moth adapts to its surroundings. For example, they have developed an affinity for pickleweed-dominated vegetation, which provides them with shelter and food.

Now that you have a better understanding of the distribution and habitat of the Salt Marsh Moth, you can appreciate its role in maintaining the balance in these precious ecosystems. Remember to be mindful of the importance of protecting delicate habitats like salt marshes for the survival of all species living in them.

Life Cycle

The Salt Marsh Moth has an interesting life cycle that consists of several stages, such as eggs, caterpillars, pupa, and larvae. Let’s take a closer look at these stages.

Eggs: The Salt Marsh Moth begins its life as an egg. After mating, the female moth deposits clusters of eggs on various plants. This ensures that the hatched caterpillars can easily find food.

Caterpillars and Instars: Once the eggs hatch, caterpillars emerge. They’re voracious eaters, consuming plant material to grow rapidly. As they grow, they pass through several stages called “instars.” Each instar is larger than the previous one.

Pupa: After completing the larval stage, the caterpillar enters the pupal stage. It finds a protected, hidden spot to anchor itself and spins a cocoon around its body. Inside the cocoon, the caterpillar undergoes a transformation called “metamorphosis” into an adult moth.

Overwintering: For some Salt Marsh Moths, their life cycle includes an overwintering stage. During cold months, they overwinter as pupae to survive the adverse weather conditions. Come spring, they emerge as adult moths to continue the life cycle.

By understanding the life cycle of the Salt Marsh Moth, you can appreciate the incredible journey these creatures undertake.

Diet and Feeding Behavior

The Salt Marsh Moth is known for its diverse diet. It primarily feeds on a wide range of host plants, which include common vegetables and crops.

For example, you may find them munching on cabbage, apple, pea, tobacco, clover, potato, and corn plants. As a Salt Marsh Moth caterpillar, their diet consists mainly of these host plants. Feeding on different plants not only provides them with the required nutrients but also makes them a highly adaptable species.

Here’s a table to show some of the host plants and their relevance to the Salt Marsh Moth’s diet:

CabbageCommon host plant
AppleOccasional host plant
PeaOccasional host plant
TobaccoCommon host plant
CloverFrequent host plant
PotatoOccasional host plant
CornOccasional host plant

Salt Marsh Moth caterpillars are voracious eaters. Their eating habits help them grow and eventually transform into adult moths. By feeding on various plants, they become resistant to local environmental changes and ensure their survival. Keep in mind, though, that their feeding behavior can sometimes cause damage to crops and gardens, making them a pest to some farmers.

To sum up, the Salt Marsh Moth has a diverse and adaptive feeding behavior that allows it to consume various host plants, making them highly adaptable and resilient, but also a potential nuisance for gardeners and farmers.

Mating and Reproduction

In the world of Salt Marsh Moths, both males and females have specific roles to play in mating and reproduction. For example, did you know that female Salt Marsh Moths release pheromones to attract males? You’ll find it fascinating how nature has designed the intricate process of moth reproduction.

Pheromones and Attraction

Female Salt Marsh Moths secrete pheromones to attract the attention of males. These chemical signals help the males locate potential mates. Males, on the other hand, flaunt their coremata (special scent glands) to release their own pheromones and entice nearby females. It’s a captivating dance of scents that brings these creatures together for reproduction.


Once the moths have successfully mated, the females lay their eggs. Here’s a summary of this process:

  • Females lay eggs on suitable host plants for the caterpillars to feed on.
  • They can lay hundreds of eggs during their lifetime.
  • The eggs are often attached in clusters to the undersides of leaves or other plant surfaces.

As you can see, the life cycle of the Salt Marsh Moth revolves around the successful mating between males and females. Their unique strategies for attracting one another, such as pheromone release and coremata display, are crucial components in the continuation of their species.

Role in the Ecosystem

The Salt Marsh Moth plays a significant role in the ecosystem. These moths serve as a crucial food source for various predators, such as birds, bats, and spiders. Their larvae, or caterpillars, are also consumed by predators like lady beetles and assassin bugs. Let’s see how Salt Marsh Moths contribute to the natural balance.

In their caterpillar stage, they feed on several types of plants. This helps to regulate plant growth and maintain a healthy ecosystem. Here are some key features of Salt Marsh Moth caterpillars:

  • Mottled with yellow and brown
  • Hairy, similar to a woolly worm
  • Long, bristly hairs arising from orange or black raised spots

While they mostly feed on plants, the caterpillars themselves are a food source for other species, such as lady beetles and assassin bugs. This contributes to the interdependency of organisms in the ecosystem.

These moths also play a role in plant pollination. When adult moths visit flowers to feed on nectar, they inadvertently transfer pollen between plants. This helps with fertilization and increases plant diversity.

Overall, the Salt Marsh Moths’ involvement in the ecosystem is vital for maintaining balance and contributes to its biodiversity. Remember, a healthy ecosystem supports diverse plant and animal life, benefiting various species and indirectly supporting humans.

The Salt Marsh Moth As a Pest

The salt marsh moth, scientifically known as Estigmene acrea, is a native insect found throughout the United States, especially in the southern parts, including the southwest region 1. As a pest, it poses a threat to various crops such as corn and cotton. Let’s explore its impact and some examples.

When the salt marsh moth targets crops, it can cause considerable damage. For instance, it’s been observed that corn crops can suffer from stripped leaves, impacting their ability to grow, while cotton crops experience damaged fruit and foliage 2. This can significantly affect agricultural yield and income for farmers.

CropDamage Caused By Salt Marsh Moth
CornStripped leaves, disrupted growth
CottonDamaged fruit and foliage

Keep in mind these points about the salt marsh moth as a pest:

  • Native to the United States, particularly the southern region.
  • Impacts various crops, most notably corn and cotton.
  • Can lead to reduced agricultural yield and income for farmers.

In summary, the salt marsh moth can cause significant problems when it becomes a pest, particularly affecting corn and cotton crops. As a result, farmers should be aware of potential infestations and take appropriate measures to protect their crops.

Scientific Classification

The Salt Marsh Moth, or Acrea Moth, belongs to the kingdom Animalia, phylum Arthropoda, class Insecta, and order Lepidoptera. It is a part of the family Erebidae, which contains a diverse range of moth species. To be specific, the genus of this moth is Estigmene and the species is Estigmene acrea.

Within the Erebidae family, the Salt Marsh Moth shares some characteristics with other members including their nocturnal nature and similar larval stages. Here are some key features of this moth:

  • Kingdom: Animalia
  • Phylum: Arthropoda
  • Class: Insecta
  • Order: Lepidoptera
  • Family: Erebidae
  • Genus: Estigmene
  • Species: Estigmene acrea

This moth is native to the United States and extends to Central America and Canada. In the following table, you can see how the Salt Marsh Moth compares to another moth species within the Lepidoptera order:

FeatureSalt Marsh MothLuna Moth
DistributionUnited States, Central America, CanadaNorth America
Larval Food PlantsVarious plants, including crop plantsDeciduous trees
Adult Activity PeriodNocturnalNocturnal

So, by understanding the scientific classification of the Salt Marsh Moth, you can learn more about its habitat, distribution, and other important characteristics.

Sources and Further Reading

We know you’re interested in learning about the Salt Marsh Moth! Below, you’ll find some valuable resources that can help you expand your knowledge on this fascinating insect.

If you’re looking to dive deeper into their habitat and the crucial role they play in the ecosystem, check out this National Park Service webpage on salt marshes. They provide insight into how salt marshes not only support the Salt Marsh Moth but also protect shorelines and provide shelter to various coastal species.

Another great read for understanding the importance of salt marshes and their conservation is this article from CMBC. It discusses the restoration process and how to ensure the long-term persistence of these vital habitats.

For those seeking to learn more about the various plant life that thrives in salt marshes, visit this U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service glossary entry. Here, you’ll gain an understanding of the grasses and plants that make up the unique salt marsh environment.

Now that you’ve got a solid foundation in understanding salt marshes, let’s dive into some resources specifically about the Salt Marsh Moth:

  • Resource One: A source about the Salt Marsh Moth life cycle and biology
  • Resource Two: An article discussing the behaviors and interaction with other species

These resources, coupled with the other links provided, should help you develop a comprehensive understanding of the Salt Marsh Moth and their environment. Happy reading!


  1. saltmarsh caterpillar – Estigmene acrea (Drury)
  2. Salt Marsh Moth (Acrea Moth) – Missouri Department of Conservation


  • 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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22 Comments. Leave new

  • I have a bag of microbes that I use for my compost bin. I heard a funny noise coming from the bag last night and found a salt marsh moth flying around inside. It had just hatched from its cocoon. The environment in the bag is warm and moist, so it probably thought it was spring. I tried to release it last night, but leaving it outside all night I found it to be in the same place, not moving. Not sure if it was alive I brought it back inside. After about an hour it began walking around. I am not sure what to do with it. I don’t want to keep it in a cage. Can it even survive inside, or can it survive during the winter months outside? If anyone can give me information that would be great. Thanks!

  • I did further research, and this reference from Bug Guide explains the “pest” tag. Beautiful moth, though, and of course, they were here before agriculture and are widely dispersed, successful native fauna. Apparently this moth is a male (orange hindwings). Handsome fellow.

  • (The link is to one of the references listed at the bottom of the Bug Guide’s page regarding the Salt Marsh Moth.)

  • cindy hennessy
    October 15, 2013 4:39 am

    I found my Salt Marsh caterpiller munching on a milkweed leaf and found no websites to say they would ever eat that and I conitinued to feed it that for over a week. It is now in a chrysalis.

    • It is nice to know that the diverse community of animal life that feeds on milkweed can add a new name to the list.

  • I’ve also seen this moth I think, I live in Canada and it’s nothing like I’ve ever seen! Me and my sister were arguing about it, and she thinks its an ermine moth, but I don’t think so, since they live in Britain! I’m still not sure what it is, but I live in delta, BC, and I need some help!

  • found 1 salt marsh moth in wilmington delaware. on .rose leaf 7/16/16

  • Hi, my daughter and I found two on our porch in South Alabama. Orange-ish and fuzzy, with a black face. I’m trying to find out what kind it is because we kept one and want to feed it but we don’t know what it’ll eat. I assumed it was heading for our flower garden but so far it’s not eating any of the leaves I’ve given it… Does it sound like a salt marsh caterpillar? Do you know if it’ll eat any veggies or do I need to go out and gather some more leaves and weeds?

    • BugGuide lists the following food plants for the Salt Marsh Caterpillar: “Larvae feed on a wide variety of mainly weedy plants including pigweed (Amaranthus spp.), anglepod (Gonolobus spp.), Sicklepod (Cassia tora), Dog Fennel (Eupatorium capillifolium), ground cherry (Physalis spp.), and mallow (Anoda spp.), plus crops such as alfalfa, asparagus, bean, beet, cabbage, carrot, celery, clover, corn, cotton, lettuce, onion, pea, potato, soybean, sugarbeet, tobacco, tomato, and turnip. On rare occasions, they also feed on leaves of deciduous trees and shrubs: alder, apple, cherry, elderberry, pear, poplar, and serviceberry, according to Handfield.” Many plants on the list are considered veggies.

  • Thank you! Does anybody have an idea if they can get “depressed” and not eat? We tried a couple of the above mentioned leaves but our caterpillar wouldn’t eat a thing, he was just laying there not moving, unless we picked up the container he was in, then he’d frantically start trying to climb up the walls and escape. We let him go that evening because he hadn’t eaten but a couple of small bites all afternoon.

  • I found a salt marsh caterpillar this fall, 2017 in Michigan. I found it on a milkweed plant, so that’s what I fed it. Healthy appetite, now in a pupate state. Glad to know he will overwinter.

    • BugGuide does list milkweed as a food plant: “Larvae feed on a wide variety of mainly weedy plants including anglepod (Gonolobus), dog fennel (Eupatorium capillifolium), ground cherry (Physalis), mallow (Anoda), milkweed (Asclepias), pigweed (Amaranthus), and sicklepod (Cassia tora), plus crops such as alfalfa, asparagus, bean, beet, cabbage, carrot, celery, clover, corn, cotton, lettuce, onion, pea, potato, soybean, sugarbeet, tobacco, tomato, and turnip. On rare occasions, they also feed on leaves of deciduous trees and shrubs: alder, apple, cherry, elderberry, pear, poplar, and serviceberry, according to Handfield.”

  • Jenna Scheidegger
    February 26, 2019 6:21 pm

    Hi. I have a salt marsh moth. Caught it for my insect collection. It was ready to lay it’s clutch of eggs. Wondering if you know if it will die after it lays it’s 400-1200 eggs? Thank you very much!

  • Jenna Scheidegger
    March 5, 2019 7:47 am

    It did not feed while laying and did die after laying its eggs.

  • i found a salt marsh moth at my school in 2019. it had a broken wing as well but it still could fly i little, i was wearing a sparkly shirt so I assumed it thought that my shirt was the night sky. every time I tried to release it, it kept on coming back to my shirt, is there an explanation to why it likes my shirt so much? also i named it Fanta, which is a pretty cool name right? Fanta’s wind was half ripped off, i don’t know what happened. also i want to know what Fanta’s predators are because i saw a lot of seagulls and sparrows, if i left Fanta out in the sun with all these birds. what is the chance that he/she got eaten, or stepped on by a kid. i really hope Fanta is still alive until night-time because he/she is the COOLEST moth i have ever seen! Fanta did’nt have a white tip on his/her abdomen, what does that mean? because jolena’s find with Fanta 2.0 seemed to have a white tip on their abdomen. i know that this is a lot of questions but i REALLY NEED TO KNOW!!!!

  • i have seen a salt marsh moth. the one i found didnt have a white tip, what does that mean?

  • the salt marsh moth i found didn’t have a white tip on their abdomen

  • Emma irizarry
    May 27, 2021 10:18 am

    How many days does it stay in its cocoon I’ve had one in it cocoon for about 2 weeks and it still hasn’t emerged.


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