Are Wasp Moths Dangerous? Truth Revealed

Wasp moths look like wasps, and that’s enough to send most people running. But are wasp moths dangerous, or is it all just a show, and they are nothing to be worried about? Let’s find out

Have you ever heard of the words ‘wasp’ and ‘moth’ together? With the millions of insect species out there, a cross between the two creatures may not come as a surprise. 

A wasp moth is a species of moth that mimics a wasp to avoid predators. Here are some things you should know about the creature and what its presence can mean around you. 

Are Wasp Moths Dangerous? Truth Revealed

What is a Wasp Moth?

Scientifically known as the Amata hubneri, the Wasp Moth is a member of the superfamily Actiinae. 

This is the same family that includes tiger moths and woolly bears. They are the smallest of their type in the Erebidae family. 

In spite of their name, these are not wasps in any way, they are a species of moths. Discovered in 1829, Wasp moths were first found in the Indo-Australian tropics of northern Australia. 

Their most common American sub-species are found across many states, including Florida, South Carolina, and Mississippi. 

These insects can also be found in South America and parts of Southeast Asia. 

Adult moths are black in color with yellow bands at their abdomen. They also have a pair of transparent wings, and the entire ensemble comes together to give them the look of a common yellow wasp. 

These are one of those insects in nature that have learned to mimic others, even though they are actually just harmless moths. 

What Do These Moths Feed On?

Adult moths have a proboscis that they use to feed on flowers and fruits of different kinds. 

They have been recorded to feed on coat button flowers. As for the larvae, they are known to feed largely on flowers, decomposing materials, and substances with protein. 

The larvae of wasp moths can feed on rice crops like Oryza sativa and sweet potato and tropical plants like Mikania micrantha.

Certain species, like the oleander caterpillars, have a specific diet. These white polka-dot wasp moth larvae feed on the leaves of plants that belong to the oleander family.  

Are Wasp Moths Dangerous? Truth Revealed

Wasp Mimicry

Among the many wonders of nature, mimicry certainly makes the cut for the top 10. And the wasp moth is part of this phenomenon. 

This insect is known as a Batesian mimic – a form of natural mimicry where a harmless creature evolves to imitate the appearance and behavior of a harmful creature. 

Batesian mimicry is a form of mimicry that allows vulnerable creatures to have their own signals of protection from their predators. 

It was first noted by naturalist H.W. Bates when he observed this phenomenon among butterflies in the Brazilian rainforests.

Wasp moths are largely harmless creatures. So they resort to mimicking wasps that can help them to protect themselves from their natural enemies. 

In most cases, predators will notice these moths from a distance, mistake them for moths and leave them alone. 

Are They Dangerous?

Moths do not have any mandibles or jaws, so there is no chance of getting bit or stung by them. 

Since they look like wasps, you might get confused that they stingers like wasps. But in reality, they don’t have stingers.

However, there are some things to look out for if you are planning to eat them! 

Certain species of wasp moths feed on poisonous plants, and these poisons are stored in their bodies. Hence, they are not at all safe to be consumed as they can create serious health hazards for humans. 

Are Wasp Moths Dangerous? Truth Revealed

Polka-Dotted Wasp Moth

As we mentioned earlier, the polka-dotted moth wasp is another creature that mimics wasps. These have a distinct design that helps them hide among flowers to escape predators. 

The larvae also feed on oleander leaves, which cause them to ingest a poisonous substance in their body. If consumed by predators, this poison can cause a painful death. 

How They Repel Predators?

The tiny polka-dot moths are known for their incredible skills in avoiding a predator. They have an uncanny resemblance to powerful stinging wasps such as the bald-faced hornets. 

This helps them automatically repel predators. Most hungry birds – if they can find these colorful creatures among flowers – will avoid them. 

Another defense of the moths is in the food they consume. They feed on the leaves of plants belonging to the oleander family. 

The diet lets them save a high amount of toxic compounds called cardiac glycosides. Most predators will get poisoned if they eat these chemicals. Hence, many predators make sure to avoid these little creatures as snacks.

How They Attract Mates?

A unique feature of polka-dot moths is the way they attract their mates. Female moths are very beautiful, but they also use pheromones to lure the males. 

These females have special abdominal glands that help them to release the chemicals when they see a suitable mate around.

If the chemical attraction does not work, the moths rely on sound signals. The females can create a clicking sound by vibrating the plates they have on either side of their thorax. 

The males, when attracted, will mimic the sound in response. This communication brings the two moths together, allowing them to carry on the circle of life. 

Are Wasp Moths Dangerous? Truth Revealed

Frequently Asked Questions

Are polka dot wasp moths dangerous?

Polka dot moths can be dangerous, considering that they feed on oleander caterpillars which enables them to store a poisonous compound in their body. 
This can cause predators of the wasps to die of poisoning or have other adverse health effects. 

What does wasp moth eat?

Wasp moths feed on a lot of organic material, including plant and animal matter. The adult moths feed on plant materials, fruits and flowers. 
The larvae are known to feed on small insects, but mostly flowers and rotten fruits. 

Can a moth hurt a human?

Usually, wasp moths are harmless to humans as they do have no power to sting. However, the polka dot wasp moths feed on poisonous flowers that get stored in their body. 
Consuming these moths or allowing them to sit around food can have detrimental effects on health. The toxic compound cardiac glycosides in their bodies can be poisonous to us as well as pets. 

What is the most poisonous moth?

The Lonomia obliqua has the Guinness record for being the most poisonous moth in the world. 
It is a giant silkworm caterpillar found in South America that has bristles that emit poison as a defense mechanism. Its poison is known to have caused a number of human deaths in Brazil. 

Wrap Up

Unless you are choosing to eat them for dinner, wasp moths are not your biggest enemies. 

They are creatures trying to protect themselves in their natural environment with their unique characteristics. 

There is no need to intervene in their natural habitat, and keeping a safe distance is enough to keep you safe. 

Thank you for reading! 

Reader Emails

Mimicry in insects is a fascinating subject by itself, and wasp moths are a perfect example of it.

It is no wonder that our readers have been fascinated with these moth, and have sent us many letters in the past asking us to identify these bugs.

Please read some of these letters below.

Letter 1 – Wasp Mimic Sesiid Moths Mating


Jack Spaniard Moths.jpg
Hi there,
Was wondering if you might be able to help me identify this moth? Many Thanks if you can help. All the best,

Hi Marc,
We are not even going to attempt to search for an exact species on your mating Wasp Mimic Sesiid Moths unless we know where this photo was taken. We are guessing somewhere in the Caribbean since we have heard a local name for paper wasps is Jack Spaniard.

Hi there,
This was taken in the British Virgin Islands. I live near Sage Mountain on Tortola, British Virgin Islands and I have seen these around fairly often. We also get a lot of Sphinx moths and Tiger Moths (which get to about 5 inches). They are all very cool. Cheers,

Letter 1 – Wasp Mimic Sesiid Moths Mating


Jack Spaniard Moths.jpg
Hi there,
Was wondering if you might be able to help me identify this moth? Many Thanks if you can help. All the best,

Hi Marc,
We are not even going to attempt to search for an exact species on your mating Wasp Mimic Sesiid Moths unless we know where this photo was taken. We are guessing somewhere in the Caribbean since we have heard a local name for paper wasps is Jack Spaniard.

Hi there,
This was taken in the British Virgin Islands. I live near Sage Mountain on Tortola, British Virgin Islands and I have seen these around fairly often. We also get a lot of Sphinx moths and Tiger Moths (which get to about 5 inches). They are all very cool. Cheers,

Letter 2 – Wasp Moth


What’s this bug?
It’s only about an inch long, dark iridescent blue body, and white tips on the antennae. I found it sitting on a shady leaf in my yard. Would love to have it identified.

Hi Dori,
This is one of the Clearwing Wasp Mimic Moths. It appears to be Synanthedon albicornis which ranges from New England to Oregon. The larvae bore into the trunks of willow trees.

Letter 3 – Wasp Moth: Squash Vine Borer


This guy flew into my garden, he was about 3/4 of an inch in length.
Any idea what he is?
Thank you,
Jenny Brinker
Cincinnati, Ohio

Hi Jenny,
This is one of the Wasp Moths from the Family Sesiidae. More specifically, it is the Squash Vine Borer, Melittia satyriniformis. The larvae bore into squash and pumpkin vines, eating out the pith and causing the plants to die. The adults mimic wasps as a protective coloration.

Oh. That’s not good. I have pumpkin plants growing!! Thank you so much for the information. So know I know he is a BAD guy! Thanks again, Jenny

Letter 4 – Wasp Moth: Fireweed Borer


some type of clearwing moth from Fairbanks Alaska
I took a picture of this little guy on one of the leaves of my tomato plant. He was less than an inch long.
Erik Anderson
Education Associate
Alaska Department of Fish & Game
Fairbanks Alaska

Hi Erik,
Your Clearwing Moth is one of the Wasp Moths in the Family Sesiidae. They often have dark bodies banded with yellow, red or white. Adults fly diuranlly and visit flowers where the wasp mimicry is a protective coloration. The caterpillars are borers and sometimes do considerable damage in orchards where they damage stems, roots and bark. Sorry we can’t give you an exact species.

Ed Note:
January 17, 2009
Thanks to taftw who identified many of our unidentified Sesiid Wasp Moths today, we now know that this is a Fireweed Borer, Albuna pyramidalis.  The species is well represented on BugGuide

Letter 5 – Exotic Invader: Wasp Mimic Moth


Pryeria sinica
Hi there…what an interesting site! I first visited about a month ago hoping to identify these wasp-mimicking moths that were swarming around the Euonymus hedgerow in back of my townhouse in central Maryland . For the entire month of October and the first two weeks of November, I had to run to my car with a jacket over my head because the infestation was so thick! I just learned that this species is Pryeria sinica and it is native to the Far East. Apparently it is a newly-identified pest species in my area and kind of a big deal! I thought others in the Maryland/Virginia area might find this useful, as there isn’t very much information available. I read something from the Maryland Dept. of Agriculture that says it’s crucial to report these guys if you see them. I wish I’d known that a few weeks ago. The invaders all died about two weeks ago when it really started to get cold. Attached are the best images I could find…I’m sorry, I don’t have the ability to thumbnail them.
Carley C. Heelen

Pryeria sinica male Pryeria sinica female

Hi Carley,
Thanks for the wealth of information and your photos. They are a welcome addition to our site.

I should add that those are not my photos, because it didn’t occur to me to take any. I found them on this site:
Carley C. Heelen

Letter 6 – Wasp MImic Moth from Australia


A nice waspy mothy thing from The Hunter Valley in NSW, Australia
Hi Bugman,
I love your site; was lost in it for more than an hour the other day checking out your caterpillars. Today we drove out from Sydney to The Hunter Valley where I acquired this lovely broach. I scoured your moth pages, but couldn’t find anything that matched exactly, but it looks like a clearwing wasp-mimicking thing – what do you think? I hope you like it!

Hi Nadia,
We agree that this is one of the Wasp Mimic Arctiids or Tiger Moths. Sorry we can’t help with the species, but we love your photograph.

Letter 7 – Wasp Moth


“Yellow Jacket” Moth
Here is a moth that looks just like a yellow jacket. It even has a fake yellow jacket mouth. Hope you enjoy!
Eagle River, AK

Hi David,
We recently met a lepidopterist, Julian P. Donohue, who specializes in Wasp Moths. We will see if he can give us an exact species on this Wasp Moth. Here is what Julian wrote back: “Hi Daniel, The moth is indeed a wasp moth, family Sesiidae (formerly called Aegeriidae). All my references for this family are at the Museum, so I can’t begin to start putting a name on it. Where it was found would be a major help–there are many species that are very similar in appearance, but all don’t occur in the same places. The larvae of all are borers in roots and stems of various plants. The hostplant may be specific for a particular species, while other species feed as larvae on a variety of different plants. Some are severe pests of horticultural, ornamental, and agricultural crops. In the last two decades great strides have been made in studying the distribution and taxonomy of this family, using traps with synthetic pheromones as an attractant (most are dayfliers and very difficult to collect with a net–if you can even see them!). The pheromones were originally developed for use with sticky traps to detect the presence of pest species (e.g., peach tree borer), so growers would know when (and whether) to institute control measures. In haste, Julian “

Letter 8 – No longer Unknown Wasp Moth identified as Double Tufted Wasp Moth


Wasp moth or wasp moth mimic
This photo was taken by Jim Spencer in Shark Valley, Everglades National Park. Is it a wasp moth or wasp moth mimic? Hope you can help. Thanks,
Linda Evans

Hi Linda,
This is a Wasp Moth in the Tribe Euchromiini, but we have not had luck identifying the species. We are going to check with our neighbor Julian who is an expert in this group of moths. We called Julian and he gave us a common and scientific name: Double Tufted Wasp Moth, Didasys belae.

Letter 9 – Texas Wasp Moth from Mexico


Sorry, the pic didn’t attach. I’ll try again. Found this picture on a website message board. It says this insect was on a leaf by a swimming pool near Cancun, Mexico. Is this a wasp? They said they have just started seeing these recently there and that they seem to be in pairs. thanks

Hi Danni,
We did not realize until we had begun posting this that you are not the originator of the image. This is some species of Wasp Mimic Moth in the family Sesiidae.

Update:  February 15, 2016
Thanks to a new query, we realized that though we made some corrections to this posting in the past, we did not include the name, the Texas Wasp Moth,
Horama panthalon.

Letter 10 – Wasp Moth from Puerto Rico


New Photos…
Hey there Bugman,
Here is a photo of a wasp-moth my boyfriend took a while ago, or atleast i believe it is a wasp-moth. he has other insect related photos in his photostream if you would like to see. Thanks
All of the photos in the stream where taken in Puerto Rico, the wasp-moth more specifically was taken in the southern part of Puerto Rico.

Hi Jeighmee,
We will contact lepidopterist Julian Donahue to see if he can correctly identify your moth.

Update: (06/23/2008)
Appears to be Horama pretus. Dorsal view at: The related species, Horama panthalon texana, occurs in the U.S.

Letter 11 – Wasp Moth from the Virgin Islands: Horama pretus


Common name of wasp moth
February 22, 2010
Hi Daniel,
Here are two photos of the wasp moth Horama pretus, photographed in my room on Necker Is., BVI on Dec. 26, 2009. Is there a common name for this moth?
Donald Gudehus
Necker Island, British Virgin Islands

Wasp Moth: Horama pretus

Hi Donald,
Common names are not really regulated, and one insect might have numerous common names, and the same common name might also be used for numerous insects.  To the best of our knowledge, Horama pretus does not have a common name other than the general Wasp Moth one.  Despite not being able to provide you with a common name, we are thrilled to have your photos of this lovely Arctiid.  We may try to contact Julian Donahue, an expert in the Arctiidae, to find out if he is aware of a common name.

Wasp Moth: Horama pretus

Letter 12 – Wasp Moth from Costa Rica: Histioea meldolae


Interesting Costa Rican Wasp Moths
April 11, 2010
On our recent trip to Costa Rica we spent a few days at the Las Cruces Biological Station/Wilson Botanical Gardens, a magnificent preserve and research facility run by the Organization for Tropical Studies (OTS). Part of my daily routine was to go night-lighting for bugs after dinner, a practice I would highly recommend to anyone who is interested in insects and isn’t too squeamish about tramping around in the dark. The station also provides a UV light screen for guests that are interested in viewing nocturnal insects, and this beautiful moth showed up one night on the underside of a nearby leaf. I am fairly certain the species is Histioea meldolae (Arctiidae: Ctenuchinae) and its startling appearance caught me a little off guard. Such brightly colored moths are usually diurnal (day fliers), the colors intended either for sexual communication or sending a warning to potential predators of toxicity or bad taste (aposematic coloration). This is indeed very common among Tiger Moths (Arctiidae) in general, including many Ctenuchid moths. Many Ctenuchids are also very good a mimicking menacing wasps, hence the common group name “Wasp Moths”. This one, however, didn’t look much like a wasp to me and appeared to be nocturnal, or perhaps crepuscular (dusk or dawn flier) which could explain the bright colors. It was also very difficult to identify and I eventually tracked it down by digging deeply into some very old scientific literature.  I could find no photos of this beautiful species on the internet, a fact that I took as further indication that it probably hides by day and is probably uncommon and/or very secretive. If anyone out there knows anything about this moth I would greatly appreciate a comment. Regards.

Wasp Moth: Histioea meldolae

Read more