A Giant leopard moth, or simply a Leopard moth, is a sight to behold, with its unique bright white wings and black spots. It’s present in the US and Canada and has a fuzzy caterpillar that hibernates during winter.
Leopard moth species summary
|Scientific Name||Hypercompe scribonia/Ecpantheria scribonia|
|Habitat||Parks, gardens, open spaces, dead trees|
|Range||Canada and the US|
|Host Plants||Banana, ash, plum, dandelion, willow, cabbage|
|Moth Description||White, with black dots and spots all over its wings|
|Caterpillar Description||Black and red, fuzzy, with hard setae|
What color are Giant Leopard moths?
The dorsal side of their thoraxes has an iridescent blue base with orange bands and orange markings. On the other hand, the ventral part has a white base with black spots.
Male Leopard moths have white and black bands on their legs, while females have predominantly black legs. Generally, the males grow larger than the females (an average of 2 inches for males and roughly 1 inch for females).
This moth has a wingspan reaching as far as 3 inches. Its wings are white and peppered with black markings with different shapes and color intensities.
Giant leopard moth vs. wood leopard moth
The Giant leopard moth (Hypercompe scribonia), belongs to the family Erebidae, while the Wood leopard moth (Zeuzera pyrina), comes from the family Cossidae.
The Giant leopard moth has more white areas on its wings, while the spots on Wood’s wings are closer together, making it appear a bit more grayish.
the Giant leopard Larva Description
The Giant leopard moth caterpillars are usually regarded as a “woolly bear” variety because of the setae (black bristles) sticking out from their bodies. Aside from the bristles, the larva displays thin orange or red and thick black horizontal bands all over its body. A fully-grown caterpillar can be as long as 3 inches.
A Giant leopard moth caterpillar hibernates during winter but might wake up on warmer days.
Giant leopard moth caterpillar vs. tiger moth caterpillar
The Woolly worm caterpillar is black at its ends, with an orange area in the middle. The Leopard moth caterpillar has red/orange bands between body segments.
Habitat and range
The Leopard moth usually lives in the following habitats:
- Dead trees
- Open woodlands
The Giant leopard moth frequents many places in North America — Southern Ontario and southern and eastern United States.
Usual Host Plants and caterpillar food plants
Some of the Giant leopard moth host plants are:
- Dandelion (Taraxacum)
- Banana/plantain (Musa)
- Ash (Fraxinus excelsior)
- Plum (Prunus domestica)
- Willow (Salix)
- Violets (Viola sp.)
- Maples (Acer)
- Sunflower (Helianthus)
- Cabbage (Brassica oleracea)
- Hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna)
- Magnolia (Magnolia)
What do the larvae eat when there are no leaves around?
If it happens that caterpillars lack the host plant leaves, they can feed on the seeds of host plants. In rare cases, these caterpillars may be considered pests, depending on their population and the presence of certain host plants.
Do adult leopard moths eat?
Like other adult moths species, adult Leopard moths do not eat. Instead, they have nutrients and fat stores in their body that have been piling up during their larval stage. This food supply will last them through their entire life cycle.
Behavior and mating process
Generally, Leopard moths are nocturnal creatures but can be seen during the daytime while resting on trees or host plants. The moth usually overwinters during its larval stage and stays in unnoticeable areas like tree barks or dead logs.
When the adult Leopard moths mate, the males’ wings cover a large part of the females’ thorax, which may lead to the shedding of some wing scales. As a result, their flight pattern may change for the rest of their lifespan.
In contrast to other moths and butterflies, adult Leopard moths’ mating can last up to 24 hours. They will not move for most of the time but will only shift from one nearby location to another to prevent getting too hot or too cold while breeding.
In this case, the male will facilitate their movement and decide on the general direction. On the other hand, the female is mostly passive and will simply fold her legs up to make it easier for them to “walk together.”
Natural Predators and defense methods
Giant leopard moth caterpillars often become the ideal spot for parasites, especially Tachinid flies. Wasps are also their natural predators.
Leopard moth caterpillars don’t have many natural enemies because they can look scary to other insects. Their hardened setae also give them protection. When they are threatened, they roll their bodies into tight balls and don’t break their form until the predator leaves.
Do leopard moths bite?
Adult Leopard moths don’t bite since they lack the mouth to do so. Caterpillars don’t sting either, but you should still handle them with care. Their setae can detach and penetrate your skin, and may cause a reaction.
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Joan is a nocturnal person who loves traveling and coffee. She’s also an animal lover (and rescuer) who makes it a point to befriend every animal she meets. Her passion for learning led her to writing about various topics. As someone who is a nature lover, she aims to continue learning about the wonderful creation—especially butterflies, and at the same time, share her knowledge here at Butterfly Hobbyist.