Moths in the Arctiidae family

Arctiidae family

The Arctiidae family includes the Tigers, Ermines and the Footmen. There are 11,000 species world wide, and 33 British species (29 resident and 4 immigrants). The tigers are usually boldly patterned; the Ermine adults usually have whitish wings with black flecks or spots, similar to the ermine fur. Many adults in the family do not feed. The caterpillars are hairy with shiny, almost hairless heads, and the hair can cause irritation. Many of the caterpillars can accumulate toxins from their foodplant that make them distasteful to predators even as adults. The caterpillars pupate in flimsy cocoons, usually above ground in a crevice or low vegetation, which incorporate the hair.

Garden tiger, Arctica caja

Garden tiger, Arctica caja adult

The Garden tiger, above and below, has a wingspan of 45 - 70 mm and a froe wing length of 28 - 37 mm. Its orange rear wings can be flashed at predators to startle them and allow the moth a chance to escape. They are also a warning that the moth is poisonous. It is found across Europe, northern and central Asia, and in north America. It prefers damp habitats such as river valleys, gardens and parks. And is nocturnal. Adults fly from June to August. It is protected in the U. K. as numbers have declined severely in recent years.

Garden tiger

The caterpillar is commonly known as the wooly bear, and can grow up to 60 mm long. Pupation is in a silken cocoon amongst the leaf litter in June or July.

Eggs are laid on the underside of the foodplant leaves in batches in July, and hatch in August. The foodplants include raspberry, blackberry, viburnum, honeysuckle, broom, and almost any low growing herbaceous plant. They eat for a short time then hibernate over winter emerging in the spring when they resume feeding.

Ruby tiger, Phragmatobia fuliginosa

The Ruby tiger is widespread throughout Europe, and is found in most habitats.

The eggs are laid in batches on the foodplant (see below) in May.

Ruby tiger Phragmatobia fuliginosa, caterpillar

The caterpillar (above) grows up to 35 mm long, and is found in open woodland, downland, meadows and moorland. The foodplants include dock, dandelion, goldenrod and yarrow. The caterpillars feed until autumn, then hibernate at the roots of the foodplant when it is fully grown.

Ruby tiger Phragmatobia fuliginosa

The adult moth flies from April - June, and again from July - September. There are 2 generations a year. It can sometimes be seen flying during the day. Adult wing length is 13 - 19 mm. The forewing is pinkish brown or deep pink with 1 or 2 dark central spots. The hind wing is bright pink and fringed.

Spilosoma lubricipeda, White ermine

The White ermine on the right is widespread throughout Europe, and as far east as Japan, and common in the British Isles, but not found in Shetland. Its habitat includes gardens, hedgerows, grassland, heathland, woodland and moorland.

The eggs are laid in batches on the foliage of the foodplants in July.

White ermine caterpillar, Spilosoma lubricipeda

The caterpillar is up to 40 mm long with dark brown/black hair in tufts. It has a light red - cream coloured stripe down its back, and a black shiny head. It eats a wide variety of both wild and herbaceous low growing plants.

The caterpillars feed until autumn. Birds find the caterpillar distasteful - probably because of the hairs. Its Latin name, lubricipeda, refers to the speed the caterpillar can run across open ground when searching for a good site to pupate, and means slippery foot.

They pupate in grey silk cocoons in leaf litter.

White ermine moth

The moths have a forewing length of 18 - 23 mm. As the common name suggests the forewing is white or cream with numerous black spots, and the rear wing has at least one black spot.

In warmer parts of the U. K. there can be 2 generations a year.

Cinnabar moth, Tyria jacobaea

Cinnabar moth, caterpillar

Above is the caterpillar of the Cinnabar moth, Tyria jacobaea. It is widespread throught Europe, common in England and Wales, and less common in the north and away from coastal areas.

The caterpillar grows up to 30 mm long, and is found in meadows, roadside verges, downland, waste ground. Its foodplant is ragwort and groundsel. In the U. K. there is one generation a year. The eggs are laid in large batches on the underside of the foodplant leaf in June. The caterpillars feed in July and August by day, and are very conspicuous, but escape predation because of their warning colouration. Pupation is on or just under ground in a cocoon, and the adults emerge the following May or June. Both adults and caterpillar are distasteful. The adult moth flies diring the day and has a fore wing length of 17 - 23 mm.