Harnessed Tiger Moth: the mystery for experts

Harnessed tiger moth, also known as Apantesis phalerata, is a North American moth present in many US states and Canada, recognizable for its black and creamy stripes and collar on the thorax.

Harnessed Tiger Moth Species Summary

Scientific nameApantesis phalerata
Family nameErebidae
HabitatGarden crops, shrubby areas
Range Ontario, Quebec, Maine, Florida, Texas, South Dakota
Host PlantsClover, corn, dandelion, plantain
Moth DescriptionForewings filled with thick black and creamy stripes, hindwings reddish-creamy with some black spots
Caterpillar DescriptionDark, almost black, with tiny hairs and spikes

Harness Tiger Moth Physical Description

Harnessed tiger moth (Apantesis phalerata, Insecta) belongs to the family Erebidae, superfamily Noctuoidea, and subfamily Arctiinae, and was first described by Thaddeus William Harris in 1841. It has varied wing coloration and is as pretty as the Leopard moth.

Forewings have black and creamy stripes, with a cream-colored coastal border. Females are less creamy. Hindwings may come in yellow, reddish, and with or without black edges. The wingspan ranges from 1.18 to 1.65 inches (3 to 4.2 cm).

Caterpillar Physical Description

Harnessed tiger moth caterpillar is dark brownish, with tiny brush-like hairs all over its body. The larvae have a yellowish-orange line going from the head to the posterior. Many caterpillars tend to be active during the day. These larval bristles make a fuzzy moth pupa (cocoon).

Why Are They Called Harnessed Tiger Moths?

These beautiful moths got such a name since the collar on their thorax looked like the horse’s harness. The “tiger” part is there likely because the moth’s wing patterns resemble the tiger’s.

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Harnessed Tiger Moth Lifespan

  • Egg Stage – unknown
  • Caterpillar – unknown
  • Chrysalis Stage – unknown
  • Adult Butterfly Stage – about 10 days

Preferred Habitat

These moths prefer gardens and open areas. Still, you’ll likely see it during the night as it’s among the nocturnal moths of North America.

Usual Host Plants

After mating, females will lay eggs on the leaves of dandelion, clover, and plantain. However, some other plants, for example, corn, can serve as hosts.

Harness Tiger moth Diet

Once the larvae hatch, they’ll eat clover, cord grass, corn, dandelion, plantain, and leaves of low-growing plants. On the other hand, adults don’t eat, like many other moth species.

Do Tiger Moths eat other insects?

There are no records of tiger moths eating other insects. As caterpillars, they feed on plants, and don’t eat as adults.

Life cycle and behavior

Like most insects from Lepidoptera, these moths go through a complete metamorphosis during their life cycle. First, they’re eggs, caterpillars, chrysalis, and adults. Their flight pattern isn’t recorded. Still, it’s known they fly from April to September, depending on location.

Moths are known to be solitary, so tiger moths are likely solitary too. Their wings are folded in a roof-like shape over their bodies when resting. They only mate and lay eggs. Still, there isn’t much information about the mating process of this moth. Harnessed tiger moths defend by producing a clicking sound that deters bats.

Common Predators

Harnessed Tiger Moth Predators
Harnessed Tiger Moth Predators

Since tiger moths are mostly nocturnal, their primary predators are bats. Their relation to predators is also quite interesting. Some moths can become toxic, depending on the plant they ingest as caterpillars. Then, when they’re adults, they’ll emit a clicking noise to let bats know they’re unpalatable.

Unfortunately, not all Harnessed tiger moths are toxic, and bats still use their echolocation technique to hunt them. This is why the moth’s bright color doesn’t deter bats, as the predators don’t use sight for hunting.

Additionally, since caterpillars are sometimes active during the day, I believe they’re prey to birds, other insects, and small mammals. However, more research needs to be done on this topic.

Are Harnessed Tiger Moths Poisonous?

As noted above, some tiger moths can obtain toxins from host plants and store them in their bodies. Still, these toxins aren’t dangerous for predators; they just make moths taste bad.

Usual Distribution

Harnessed tiger moths are located in many areas of North America (Canada and the US). They can live in:

  • Ontario
  • Quebec
  • Maine
  • Florida
  • Texas
  • South Dakota

There have also been many recordings in North Carolina, Missouri, Tennessee, New Jersey, and other states.

Do Harnessed Tiger Moths Migrate?

So far, it’s unknown if these moths fully migrate south when cold weather approaches. Still, experts determined they’ll move up to 0.6 miles (1 km) away from both unsuitable and suitable habitats.

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