Meet the Giant Leopard Moth: a white beauty with black spots

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 NameHypercompe scribonia/Ecpantheria scribonia
Family NameErebidae
Kingdom Animalia
Genus Hypercompe
HabitatParks, gardens, open spaces, dead trees
RangeCanada and the US
Host PlantsBanana, ash, plum, dandelion, willow, cabbage
Moth DescriptionWhite, with black dots and spots all over its wings
Caterpillar DescriptionBlack and red, fuzzy, with hard setae

What color are Giant Leopard moths?

Giant leopard moth
Giant leopard moth

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.

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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

Leopard Moth Larva (Hypercompe scribonia)
Leopard Moth Larva (Hypercompe scribonia)

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.

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 comes from the Isabella tiger moth, while the Giant woolly bear is the larva of the Giant leopard moth.

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:

  • Parklands
  • Gardens
  • Dead trees
  • Scrubs
  • Open woodlands
  • Logs

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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