Virginia Tiger Moth Facts: All You Need To Know

If you find a pretty-looking white moth in your garden, chances are that you are watching a Virginia tiger moth. Let’s learn all about these insects.

White moths are considered a sign of peace and harmony in many cultures. Perhaps the most famous white moths are the agreeable tiger moths.

But there are quite a few other species of tiger moths with white bodies and one that looks almost identical to the agreeable tiger moth: the Virginia tiger moth.

In this article, we will learn the difference between the two and talk more about the Virginia tiger moths. 

Virginia Tiger Moth Facts
The Virginia Tiger Moth looks nearly identical to the Agreeable Tiger Moth

Scientific Classification Table 

FamilyErebidaeOrder Lepidoptera
IdentificationWhite bodies with a few tiny black spots. They have furry white legs. There is a yellow-orange patch near its head. 
Size0.66 to 1.02 inches.
Wingspan Size1.5 inches
RangeNorth America, Canada, and Mexico
Lifespan1-2 weeks as adults
Life CycleEggs, larvae, pupae, adults
DietFluffy leaves like cabbage, tobacco tree leaves like willow, birch, maple, and more.
Conservation StatusN5 – Secure
Other Common NamesVirginian Tiger Moths, Yellow bear caterpillar moths

What Does The Virginia Tiger Moth Look Like?

As mentioned in the introduction, Virginia Tiger Moths(Spilosoma Virginica) look similar to agreeable tiger moths. Both moths are known for their white bodies with a few tiny black spots. 

However, the Virginia tiger moths have furry white legs. If you look at them from the top, you will notice a yellow-orange patch near their heads. 

Their hindwings are also covered in the same black spots. 

There are 13 overall segments in their bodies, with a white or yellow colored abdomen and white hairs on the thorax.

They have wings that are pure white in color. The hindwings usually have more spots than the forewing. Their antennae are also feathery.

The caterpillar of these moths is quite unique in appearance. These insects are called yellow bear caterpillars. 

Being true to their names, they have yellow or rusty orange-colored bodies covered in bristle-like hairs. 

While most of the setae are darker in shade, there is usually a single light-colored longish hair on their bodies as well.

They consume the leaves of various plants and are known to leave the tree looking spooky with just the veins hanging on it, instead of the leaves. 

Virginia Tiger Moth Facts

Virginia Tiger Moth Size – How Big Does Virginia Tiger Moth Get? 

These insects fall in the small to medium-sized category. An average healthy Virginian tiger moth can grow up to 0.66 to 1.02 inches. 

The caterpillar is also not too big. They show an average growth of 0.62-1.9 inches

Adult moths have a wingspan of around 1.5 inches and are often seen flying toward light sources in the dark. 

Virginia Tiger Moth Lifespan – How Long Does Virginia Tiger Moth Live? 

Like other tiger moths, Virginian tiger moths do not live for long. Healthy adults can live up to 1-2 weeks. They live much longer during their larva stage. 

As soon as the adults emerge from pupa, they set their sights on finding a partner for mating. 

Soon after mating and laying eggs, these adults die. Their life is mostly spent in the larval form, but they undergo a complete metamorphosis to emerge as healthy moths. 

Let us discuss their life cycle in detail in the next section. 

Virginia Tiger Moth Facts
Source: Andy Reago & Chrissy McClarrenCC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Virginia Tiger Moth Life Cycle 

Mating

The mating cycle starts as soon as the adults emerge from the pupa. 

The Virginia tigers are pheromone-using moths. The males use them to track females for mating. 

During mating, the eggs get fertilized inside the female. After mating, female moths search for a suitable host plant to lay the fertilized eggs. 

These eggs are laid in clusters of 50 to 60 and are usually white in color. In some cases, the eggs can be golden-yellow as well. 

Larva

In around ten days, the embryo absorbs the nutrients from these eggs to reach the larva form and hatch from eggs. 

On hatching, they start consuming the eggshells of the clusters from which they emerge. These egg eggshells provide necessary growth vitamins and proteins. 

They look quite different from other caterpillars of the tiger moth family due to the orange-colored hair on their body. 

But, just like other woolly bears, they also eat a lot of food in other grow fat to transition into the pupation stage. 

They shift from plant to plant to eat enough food in order to grow. They undergo six instar stages as a larva, growing and changing their skin in each stage.

Typically, you can find caterpillars nearing maturity from May to November.

Once they are done with the feeding share in the larval stage, they leave the host plant to search for a safe spot to begin the pupation process. 

These spots need to be well secured from the predators like birds. 

Virginia Tiger Moth Facts
Yellow Bear Caterpillar
Source: “Virginian Tiger Moth? – Spilosoma virgin” (CC BY 2.0) by Judy Gallagher

Pupation

At the start of pupation, the cover has a metallic green color which later turns reddish-brown as it matures. 

It can take around 5-21 days for the adults to emerge from these reddish-brown pupae. 

The process can be a little challenging because adults are delicate, and breaking past the pupal cover is not easy. 

Finally, the pupa breaks free, and adult moths emerge in 

Where Is Virginia Tiger Moth Found & Their Range. 

Virginia tiger moths prefer to live in Woodlands, forests, fields, and gardens. You can spot the adults flying around these spots from May-November. 

You can find them in various regions of North America. Here is a list of states where these moths can be found:

  • Alabama
  • Arkansas
  • Connecticut
  • Delaware
  • Florida
  • Georgia
  • Illinois
  • Indiana
  • Iowa
  • Kansas
  • Kentucky
  • Lousiana 
  • Maine
  • Maryland
  • North Carolina
  • New York
  • Ohio
  • Vermont, and more. 

Canada and Mexico also have a strong population of the Virginia tiger moths. 

Virginia Tiger Moth Facts
Source: Andy Reago & Chrissy McClarrenCC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

What do Virginia Tiger Moths eat? 

Adult moths don’t live for long and focus mostly on mating; therefore, they don’t eat much. On rare occasions, you can spot them feeding on nectar. 

The caterpillars love to eat fleshy leaves. Interestingly they always leave the veins behind while feeding on leaves. 

Tobacco and cabbage are some of their favorite plants to eat. You can also find them eating the leaves of trees like maple, walnut, and birch. 

These caterpillars must feed a lot to grow fat enough to begin pupating. 

If they don’t build enough fat storage in the body, they won’t be able to make it out as healthy adult moths. 

Are Virginia Tiger Moths Poisonous? 

Virginia tiger moths are not poisonous, nor are they aggressive; they are fragile and gentle creatures. 

But you must remember that both the adults and caterpillars have tiny bristle-like hair on their bodies that can trigger allergic reactions in the human body. 

Therefore you must never touch these insects with bare hands.

Adding to that, tiger moths often release fluid to wave off predators when they feel threatened. 

If you approach them, they might secrete this fluid which can cause health problems like dermatitis. It is wise to avoid touching Virginia tiger moths. 

Virginia Tiger Moth Facts
Source: Andy Reago & Chrissy McClarrenCC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Do Virginia Tiger Moths Bite? 

As mentioned in the previous section, Virginia tiger moths do not bite and are not aggressive. These insects don’t have a stinger either. 

But again, you must remember the points mentioned in the last section. Do not engage with the moths or caterpillars without wearing proper safety gear like gloves and socks. 

The adult Virginia tiger moths have a proboscis to suck nectar from various flowers, but it is nowhere near dangerous to cause any harm to humans or pets. 

Also, these insects are fragile; therefore, touching or grabbing them might kill or break their wings. 

How To Attract Virginia Tiger Moth?

It is rare to see people who want to have these insects in their gardens. But various flying white bodies with patterns can be a good sight in a garden. Here are a few ways to attract the Virginia tiger moths to your gardens:

The female stops searching for egg-laying places when she finds a space with plenty of host plants near. They choose spots like gardens and fields with ornamental crops and weeds. 

Having a variety of such plants in your garden can be a surefire way to attract nearby females. Here is a small list of plants to add to lure these insects:

  • cabbage
  • carrot
  • cauliflower
  • celery
  • asparagus
  • radish
  • rhubarb
  • eggplant
  • onion
  • parsnip
  • pea
  • potato
  • pumpkin
  • salsify
  • squash
  • sweet potato
  • turnip
  •  bean
  • beet
  • corn

Using lights to attract tiger moths is one of the most effective ideas. These insects are predominantly nocturnal. 

They can easily spot a glowing source in the dark and start flying toward it. 

By putting a bright portable light in your garden and porch, you can easily grab the attention of tiger moths wandering nearby. 

Virginia Tiger Moth Facts
Source: Andy Reago & Chrissy McClarrenCC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Once they land in your garden and find the few plats mentioned above, they will not leave. 

Predatorial areas are a big no for the mother moths to lay eggs. They are extremely careful about picking spots that are free from birds, lizards, and bats. 

Keep such predators away from your garden to increase the chance of having Virginia tiger moths around. 

Virginia Tiger Moth Meaning 

Tiger moths, especially the ones with white bodies, symbolize different things in various cultures. 

There are many spiritual meanings attached to these moths that hold great value for various people. 

In ancient greek culture, moths are considered to be a sign of the souls of the departed ones. Hence, they are called the symbol of death.

In many cultures, people believe that spotting a moth is a cue that a cycle in your is about to end, and you will embark on a new journey. 

The moth is also seen as a sign of transformation. This idea is inspired by the fact that moths undergo a tedious cycle to transform into beautiful flying insects. 

The Virginia tiger moth is often considered a sign of purity, innocence, and peace due to the white color of their bodies. 

People also take inspiration from moths to be gentle and kind. 

Thus, spotting a white moth is a sign for the person to start being kind toward others and to have a gentle approach to decisions in life. 

Virginia Tiger Moth Facts
Yellow Bear Caterpillar
Source: “Virginian Tiger Moth – Teigne du tigre d” (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0) by monteregina

Virginia Tiger Moth Facts 

Here are a few fascinating facts about Virginia tiger moths that sets them apart from other insects in the tiger moth family:

  • Sexual Dimorphism is present in Virginia tiger moth adults. The adult is comparatively much smaller than the adult females.
  • If you compare the male Virginia tiger moths to the females, you will notice that the antennae characteristics are different. Males have larger and or feathery antennae. 
  • When the adults open their wings completely, you will notice only two black spots on the white forewings. One is near the wing margins, and the other is close to the inferolateral cell 
  • Virginia tiger moth adults are not good flyers. Some would term the flying patterns as zigzag and erratic. However, they can cover good distances by air. 
  • Unlike other tiger moths, the young Virginia tiger moth larvae feed in colonies. These caterpillars can cause massive damage to leafy plants like cabbage by skeletonizing the leaves.

How To Get Rid Of Virginia Tiger Moth? 

As we mentioned in the previous section, these caterpillars are bad news for the plants in your garden. They will swarm and attack a plant and skeletonize it. Here are a few tricks to keep them away from the garden.

Create a pepper-garlic mixture and add it to water to make a solution. Put this solution in a spraying bottle and sprinkle it directly on the yellow bear caterpillars. As the liquid seeps into their bodies, it will start killing them slowly. 

To avoid the insects from climbing plants and nesting in them, spray some vinegar. The caterpillars hate the smell of vinegar and will quickly walk away from the sprayed plants. 

Use pheromone traps to lure these insects. Once they are trapped in the sticky pad, kill them immediately and place the trap in the same spot the populations vanish. 

Frequently Asked Questions 

How big is the Virginia tiger moth?

Virginia tiger moths fall in the small to medium category. Here the males are somewhat smaller than the females. However, they have comparatively bigger antennae. 
These moths can grow up to 0.66 to 1.02 inches. The caterpillars show an average growth of 0.62-1.9 inches. Also, adult moths have a wingspan of around 1.5 inches.

How fast is a tiger moth?

Tiger moths are not fast insects. You can barely spot them crawling or walking on surfaces; they usually prefer to fly. However, they are not fast on air as well. 
You can spot them slowly flying toward lights. The flying pattern can be described as zigzag and erratic. 

How much does a tiger moth cost?

Tiger moths are quite common in various regions of the world. You will be surprised to know that there are over 11,000 known species of tiger moths scattered across the globe. 
Due to the high availability, tiger moths do not cost much. In fact, it is pretty rare to come across someone who buys or sells these insects. 

Are Virginia tiger moths poisonous?

Virginia tiger moths are not poisonous, but they have tiny hairs on their body which can cause allergic reactions in the human body. 
Therefore you should never touch these moths with bare hands. Avoid direct contact at all costs. If you want to pick them up, use safety gloves. 

Wrap Up 

Virginia tiger moths are the close relatives of agreeable tiger moths, but there are a few notable differences between the two that we mentioned in this article.

We hope after reading this piece, you will be able to identify one and be safe around it as well easily. Thank you for taking the time to read this article.

Reader Emails

Moth classification can be confusing, especially when there are so many types of tiger moths, and some of them are even white!

Please go through letters and emails from some of our readers, asking us about the beautiful creature they have seen in their garden.

We were ourselves hard pressed to figure out many of these moths! Let us know which ones you have seen in your neighborhood or garden in the comments section.

Letter 1 – DECORATED BEAUTY is Unidentified Mexican Beauty: Tiger Moth

 

what’s this moth?
Dear Bugman,
I found this moth in my kitchen in southern Mexico City this morning (December). I didn’t think it was even a real bug at first, but it is. It has a red and black abdomen. The green markings are actually greyer than they look in the photo. What the heck is it?
Thank you,
Elizabeth Collins

Hi Elizabeth,
We are so sorry to disappoint you, but we have no idea what your Mexican beauty is. Perhaps if we post it, someone will write in with a reply.

Ed. Note: (12/20/2005)
Eric Eaton just wrote in the following comment. ” The Mexican beauty moth is a tiger moth of some kind, family Arctiidae. Probably won’t be too hard to track down. I’ll see what I can do with my references. Looks like that Mexican tiger moth might be in the genus Idalus. Lots of very similar-looking species in that group anyway.”

Update: 01/15/2007)
Unidentified Mexican Beauty: Tiger Moth – Anaxita decorata
Hey Guys,
I think I figured out what your “Mexican Beauty” is:
http://www.texasento.net/Anaxita.htm
Mike

Hi Mike,
Thank you so much for doing this research and informing us about the Decorated Beauty. Normally, we do not post updates on our homepage (only to the archives), but this little gem deserves reposting. Thanks again.

Letter 2 – Arge Tiger Moth

 

whats this moth?
Hello again..it’s been a long time since my last visit when you identified my ScorpionFly. Now I have a pretty little moth, only about an inch long that I found underwater on my swimming pool step. I rescued it and put it on a shrub but I dont know what it is. Thank, and sorry I left you for awhile. I’m back now.
Susie

Hi Susie,
This is a Tiger Moth in the genus Grammia, most likely Grammia arge, the Arge Tiger Moth. We matched it to a photo on BugGuide.

Letter 3 – Best Insect Accessory: Tiger Moth

 

Subject: weird moth
Location: Athol, Massachusetts
July 11, 2012 7:34 pm
found this moth today in my yard. I’ve lived here for 30+ yrs and never saw one this color before. I found one on the web that identifid it as a Mexican Tiger Moth and they’re from the west but Im in Massachusetts so now Im confused. Mabey you can help.
Signature: Thank You, Danielle

Tiger Moth

Dear Danielle,
Your photo is the third to get posted in the past two days that has a gorgeous moth on a beautiful hand.  It has prompted us to create a new category:  Buggy Accessories.  So readers, vote which is the most beautiful photograph of an insect accessory.  Which would you most like to sport in public?  Post a comment.  Is it this Imperial Moth?  Is it this newly metamorphosed Sphinx Moth?  Is it this Virgin Tiger Moth on Danielle’s hand?

This is a Tiger Moth in the genus, Grammia, and the Virgin Tiger Moth, Grammia virgo, looks close, lives in your area and has a great common name.  See BugGuide for some images and information.  This is such a fun photo to promote National Moth Week.

 

Letter 4 – Virginia Tiger Moth

 

Subject: Dr. Zhivago bug
Location: Summer County, Tennessee
July 11, 2013 9:00 pm
Hello,
I saw this moth on the window at work this evening and I can’t get it off my mind now! It has a fuzzy head and such beautiful antennae. I’ve never seen anything like it! Please help.
Signature: Heidi

Virginia Tiger Moth
Virginia Tiger Moth

Dear Heidi,
We believe we have correctly identified your Tiger Moth as a Virginia Tiger Moth,
Spilosoma virginica, based on photos posted to BugGuide.

Virginia Tiger Moth
Virginia Tiger Moth

Letter 5 – Clio Tiger Moth

 

Subject: Moth
Location: Santa Rosa, New Mexico, USA
July 31, 2014 9:22 pm
Hello. I was wondering just what sort of moth this is. It’s very unusual for the usual kinds of moths we get here and i thought it was really interesting, and strong when I went to pry it off the table! But it’s safely sitting on the porch out of the rain now. Please get back to me.
Signature: Jared Serrano

Clio Tiger Moth
Clio Tiger Moth

Hi Jared,
After a bit of searching, we were able to identify this as a Clio Tiger Moth,
Ectypia clio, thanks to images posted to BugGuide.  According to BugGuide:  “Larvae feed on milkweed (Asclepias, Asclepiadaceae) and dogbane (Apocynum, Apocynaceae). Behr reported them on spreading dogbane (Apocynum androsaemifolium).”  We recall a recent posting with unknown caterpillars that resembled Tiger Moth Caterpillars feeding on milkweed, and now we are going to try to locate the posting to see if the caterpillars resemble the caterpillars of the Clio Tiger Moth posted to BugGuide

Clio Tiger Moth
Clio Tiger Moth

8 thoughts on “Virginia Tiger Moth Facts: All You Need To Know”

  1. I think I would pick the Tiger moth as it is not as ostentatious as the Imperial or the Sphinx in size. Of the other two, the Sphinx would be easier to coordinate with my wardrobe due to its more neutral colouration… If I could choose ANY it would be the Polyphemus, the colours are varied but subtle. Were I an artist, I can quite imagine rendering a Polyphemus in enameled silver or pewter as a brooch or other accessory.

    Reply
    • Thanks for your comment Bugophile. Alas, we have no Polyphemus photos currently in the running for an insect accessory, but we will hunt through our archive to see if we can locate one. This contest was created for our own amusement when we noticed the trend of manicured hands holding large moths that were submitted in the past few days. Here is a nice photo from our archives of a Polyphemus Moth insect accessory.

      Reply
    • Thanks George,
      Insect inspired jewelry has been around for quite some time and we are please to see that your company is carrying on the tradition. Daniel still laments the missing art nouveau tuxedo studs and cuff links that disappeared from his possession around 1994. They were made in the shape of flies and had rhinestone eyes and bodies.

      Reply

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