Moths in the Erebidae family

Erebidae family overview

This is a newly created family - taxonomy is always changing as we find out more. So I will be moving more moths into this family.

Thysania agrippina, the White witch

Thysania agrippina, White witch adult

Thysania agrippina, the White witch is above. It also has the common name of Ghost moth, Great grey witch, Great owlet moth, and Birdwing moth. It has the largest wingspan of any moth recorded so far at 30 cm. but the Atlas moth can have a larger wing area.

The White witch is found mainly in South and central America, but some do occur as far north as Texas in the U. S. The female lays her eggs in loosely spaced groups or singly on or near the foodplant, which is the India rubber tree, Hevea brasiliensis. The eggs hatch in April.

Lymantriinae, Tussocks and Vapourers

The Lymantriinae are commonly known as the tussocks or vapourers. This comes from the tussocks of hairs seen in the caterpillars (see below). Fore wing length of U. K. species ranges from 7 - 45 mm. This was formerly a family called Lymantriidae.

The adults fly mainly at night, and are hairy and medium or large in size, and tend to be dull brown or yellow. The adult males have strongly feathered antennae, whereas the females have simple or just slightly feathered antennae. The males use their antennae as scent aerials to pick up molecules of the female pheromones sometimes from several km away, and fly down a chemical gradient in hope of a mate. Some species have flightless females. Many species are serious pests in forests, the best known being the Gipsy moth.

The tufts of hair on the hairy caterpillar are incorporated into the cocoons which are usually formed above ground. The hairs fall out easily when the caterpillar is handled and can cause irritation. Some species have hollow or barbed stinging hairs which can cause a fairly severe rash.

The Vapourer, Common vapourer, Orgyia antiqua

Vapourer moth caterpillar, Orgyia antiqua

The Vapourer, Orgyia antiqua, above, is widespread throughout Europe, and is also found in North America. It is found in woods, hedges, parks and gardens.

The eggs are brownish white, and are laid in July and August in a batch on the cocoon from which the female has just hatched. The eggs hatch the following spring, and the caterpillar feeds until July or August.

The caterpillar reaches 35 mm long when fully grown. The hairs can be irritating and cause a rash in some people. The caterpillar foodplant is almost any deciduous shrub. Pupation is in a cocoon on twigs or bark, and the cocoon is spun to incorporate the caterpillar hairs.

Adults emerge in July and August, and fly until October. The female is more or less wingless, and waits on her cocoon for a male to find and mate with her. She attracts the males by emitting a pheromone. The male flies by day. Male wing length is 14 - 16 mm.


The Arctiinae includes the Tigers, Ermines and the Footmen. This was previously a separate family known as the Arctiidae. 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 subfamily do not feed, and most are nocturnal. The caterpillars are hairy with shiny, almost hairless heads, and the hair can cause irritation, and are often called woolly bears. Many of the caterpillars can accumulate toxins from their foodplant that make them distasteful to predators even as adults. Caterpillars in this family can walk relatively fast, and will willingly travel quite far to reach a suitable foodplant or pupation site. The caterpillars pupate in flimsy cocoons which incorporate the caterpillar hair, usually above ground in a crevice or low vegetation.

Garden tiger, Arctia caja

Garden tiger, Arctica caja adult

The Garden tiger, above and below, has a wingspan of 45 - 70 mm and a fore 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 below 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 jacobaeae

Cinnabar moth, caterpillar

Above is the caterpillar of the Cinnabar moth, Tyria jacobaeae. It is widespread throughout 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 during the day and has a fore wing length of 17 - 23 mm.

Mother Shipton, Callistege mi

Mother shipton moth, Callistege mi, adult

Mother Shipton, Callistege mi (above) is found throughout Europe. Its preferred habitat is grassy areas, woodland rides, verges and embankments. The caterpillar is up to 40 mm long, and thin like a looper with just 3 pairs of prolegs. It feeds on clover, black medick, lucerne, bird's-foot trefoil and grasses mainly at night, and rests along a grass stem during the day. There is one generation a year. The eggs are laid in June and hatch after 3 weeks. In September it pupates in a cocoon among grasses or just below ground and overwinters. The adult emerges the following year in May or June and flies during the day when it is sunny until early July. This moth was previously listed in the Noctuidae family.

Hypena proboscidalis, the Snout

The Snout, Hypena proboscidalis, adult Noctuid moth

Hypena proboscidalis, the Snout is common throughout Britain in open woodland, hedgerows, gardens and waste ground.

Eggs are laid in July and August.

Caterpillars. The caterpillars eat nettles at night and hides between spun leaves during the day. In August the hibernate over the winter, emerging next spring and pupating in June. Length is up to 25 mm, and is variable in colour from a yellowish green to a dark green with lighter bands between segments, and white lines along the back and sides.

They pupate in a cocoon among nettle leaves.

Adult. It is the palps which stick out in front and form the "snout".The forewings are slightly hooked. They tend to fly at night in June, July and August. In the south there may be a second generation in the autumn. During the day they rest, often in nettles which are the larval foodplant. Wingspan is 31 - 39 mm and forewing length is 15 - 19 mm.

Previously listed in the Noctuidae family