Overview of the interesting Garden Tiger Moth

The Garden tiger moth, also known as the Great tiger moth, lives in North America, Asia, and Europe. It is unique for its tiger-like forewings coloration, bright orange hindwings, and toxic fluids.

Garden Tiger Moth Species Summary

Scientific NameArctia caja
Family NameErebidae
HabitatGrasslands, gardens, and forests
RangeNorth America, Europe, and Asia
Host PlantsThey’re generalists, so they feed on various plants, including foxglove and plantago
Butterfly DescriptionMedium to large-sized butterflies with various wing patterns. The common pattern is brown-white on the forewings and orange-black hindwings
Caterpillar DescriptionLong, black and hairy

How do you identify the garden tiger moth?

Garden tiger moth
Garden tiger moth

You can identify the Garden tiger moth by its colors and patterns. This colorful moth has a 1.78 to 2.5 inches (4.5 to 6.5 cm) wingspan. The wings have varying designs. The forewings have a brown and white pattern.

The hindwings are orange with 4 to 5 navy-black spots. According to Oberthür, there are 500 color and pattern variations, but most resemble a tiger’s patterns.

The abdomen is dark red and is divided into 5 segments with black markings. The face has red hair, and the head has dark brown hair at the back. These moths of North America have two filiform antennae.

the Garden tiger vs. the Jersey tiger and the Scarlet tiger moth

Garden tigerForewings have a brown and white pattern, hindwings are orange
Jersey tigerHas more black stripes with creamy triangle on forewings
Scarlet tigerHas spots instead of stripes, greenish upperside

The Garden tiger moth resembles the Jersey tiger and the Scarlet tiger. While they all belong to the tiger moth family, you can still observe the patterns on forewings to identify the species.

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For example, the Jersey tiger has more black stripes and a white triangle on the edges of its forewings. Its undersides are bright orange, with a few white spots.

The Scarlet tiger moth is more greenish on the upper side and has spots instead or stripes. Its hindwings are also orange, with black edges. The undersides are orange with some iridescent blue areas.

Why are they called Garden Tiger Moths?

The Garden tiger moth gets its name from the pattern on its abdomen or wings. These body parts are black with orange markings resembling a tiger’s pattern.

Larva Description: the woolly bear caterpillar

Garden tiger moth caterpillar
Garden tiger moth caterpillar

A Garden tiger moth caterpillar, like other caterpillars of the Arctiinae subfamily (Arctiidae family), has a fuzzy appearance. The fuzzy appearance has earned it the name woolly bear.

A fully grown caterpillar is 2.5 inches (6 cm) long and black. The body has dense, long black hairs on top and oranger/ginger hairs on the sides. The hairs protect the caterpillars from cold and predators because the hairs have formic acid.

What is the life cycle of a garden tiger moth?

Egg Stage4 to 14 days
Caterpillar Stage14 to 28 days
Chrysalis Stage7 to 14 days
Butterfly Stage6 to 20 days

Where can you find a garden tiger moth?

Arctia cajas are generalists, so they can be found in various types of habitats except in tropical climates. These tiger moths are commonly found on:

  • Grasslands
  • Damp meadows
  • Gardens
  • Hedgerows
  • Open woodland
  • Riverbanks
  • Sand-dunes

Garden tiger moths thrive in temperate climates and frequent North America and Europe. These moths are widely distributed and have also been seen in the Palearctic.

Usual Host Plants

Garden tiger moth caterpillars can feed on a variety of low-growing plants. These garden plants include:

  • Water dock (Rumex hydrolapathum)
  • Common nettle (Urtica dioica)
  • Hound’s-tongue (Cynoglossum officinale)
  • Broad-leaved dock (Rumex obtusifolius)
  • Foxglove (Digitalis)
  • Burdocks (Arctium)
  • Plantains (Plantago)
  • Clovers (Trifolium)
  • Apple (Malus domestica)
  • Hemp agrimony (Eupatorium cannabinum)

What do garden tiger moths and caterpillars eat?

Caterpillars’ food sources include low-growing, herbaceous plants. Since they are generalists, they will feed on many plants located in their current area.

Adult Garden tiger moths don’t have a primary food source, so they can find nectar from a wide range of flowers.

In captivity, synthetic food can be based on powdered cellulose, salts, wheat germ, cabbage, agar, and sucrose.

Behavior and oviposition

Adult Garden tiger moths are nocturnal and are active from June to September.

Arctia Caja lays pale green eggs in batches of 50. The eggs can hatch within ten days, mostly from August to September. The caterpillars overwinter once when they’re 0.6 inches (1.5 cm) long. They resume growth in the spring and finish by June.

Before pupation, they can search for a place to pupate or bask in the sun. These hairy caterpillars use the hairs to form a cocoon in leaf litter for pupation.

Adult moths emerge after 2-4 weeks, depending on temperature.

Common Predators and threats

Despite their strong defenses, Garden tiger moths are still preyed upon by birds, bats, and parasites. Still, only inexperienced birds will attack, and likely regret it. However, the larva is a favorite for many endoparasites, such as:

  • Hubneria affinis
  • Thelaira nigripes
  • Exorista grandis
  • Carcelia gnava
  • Pales pavida
  • Carcelia tibialis
  • Thelymorpha marmorata
  • Exorista fasciata
  • Thelaira leucozona
  • Carcelia lucorum
  • Compsilura concinnata

These flies parasitize Tiger moths by laying eggs on the larva.

Are Garden Tiger Moths Poisonous?

The orange hindwings of these tiger moths serve as a defense mechanism for warning predators that they’re unpalatable. These moths have toxic bodily fluids, so when they’re disturbed, they flash their hindwings to scare or warn predators. When attacked, they secrete the irritating toxic fluid.

When resting, they cover the orange hindwings.

They can also make a rasping noise using their wings to scare bats.

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