Aloa lactinea – “Red costate tiger moth”

Aloa lactinea, the “Red costate tiger moth”, is a species of tiger moth from Asia, with a very beautiful appearance. The moth is predominantly white, with a beautiful crimson border that runs along the wing edges and the thorax. “Costate” refers to the costal margin, which is the entomological term for the upper wing edge.

Aloa lactinea adult

Aloa lactinea comes from both temperate and tropical regions. It’s an adaptable species that can overwinter if it has to, but can also thrive in warm climates. Caterpillars are hairy and very polyphagous, and wander the vegetation, where they will graze on random grasses, herbs, shrubs, trees and other foliage. The species occurs in the primary and secondary habitats from the lowlands to the montane regions.

Aloa lactinea is often reported as a minor pest. I doubt that this is actually true. In reality, the caterpillars are extremely polyphagous, to the point of eating the majority of low growing plants and shrubs you can find for them, from the Fabaceae (clover), Solaneaceae (nightshade), Rubiaceae (bedstraw), Euphorbiaceae (spurge), Convulvulaceae (bindweed) families and more (Asteraceae, Malvaceae, Alliaceae, etc.) – in reality the caterpillars can more or less eat whatever the landscape offers them. The main problem with modern agriculture, is that is more or less destroys the landscape, leaving very little food options for the larvae beyond what is the monoculture of food crops. While in reality the caterpillars would feed on a big selection of food plants, now they can only survive in coffee or mango plantages by consuming the main crop that grows there. It turns out the caterpillars of this moth are so versatile, that they can eat a number of crops like onions, cabbage, sweet potato, potato, guave, mango, coffee, tea, beans, sugar cane, cacoa, citrus, corn, and probably more that just so happen  to be on their menu along with possibly hundreds of other plant species. However, in no way are the caterpillars specialised to spoil or damage food crops, and in a more varied landscape they would probably tend to leave the plantages alone in favour of a rich polyphagous diet. Humans have a cognitive bias when it comes to insects chewing on their food crop leaves, but these Arctiinae are slow growing and also wander the vegetation a lot and have a polyphagous diet. So even if the moth is very abundant and common, the damage they do is really negligible, and they are certainly not defoliators or host plant specialists.

Aloa lactinea threat pose

Aloa lactinea has a wonderfully coloured abdomen; it is black with bright yellow stripes. When the moths are molested and feel threatened, they will raise the wings behind their back, exposing the abdomen that was previously not visible. This aposematic display can scare off predators, by signalling that they are potentially dangerous. Yellow and black are warning colours associated with a lot of venomous insects such as wasps, but they may also signal that the moths are unpalatable. Indeed, Aloa lactinea is mildly toxic, and have a very bitter odour and taste to them. They very likely sequester toxic compounds from their host plants, as is usual for Arctiinae moths (most of the time they are alkaloids). Their diet, that consists (among others) of plantsl ike Asteraceae, Fabaceae, Solaneaceae, Convolvulaceae which are rich in defensive chemicals  indicates that they do have a taste for ‘toxic’ plants, which are beneficial to them since they strengthen their chemical protection.

In captivity the moths are very easy to raise, although I somehow failed to pair this species in captiviy, so I cannot comment on breeding them.

  • Difficulty rating:  Average, although I am not sure how hard it is to pair them.
  • Rearing difficulty: 5/10 (From egg to pupa)
  • Pairing difficulty: I failed to pair them 😦 however I would love to try again, eggs anyone?
  • Host plants:  Taxaracum (Dandelion), Coffea (coffee), Camellia sinensis (tea plant), Brassica sp. (cabbage), Urtica sp. (stinging nettle), Allium sp. (onion), Citrus sp., Derris eliptica, Ipomoea batatas (sweet potato), Psidium guajava (Guave), Croton sp., Senna sp, Zea mays (corn), Theobroma cacao (cacao), Tinospora glabra, Helianthus sp. (Sunflower), Tectona grandis (teak), Solanum sp. – in reality hundreds of shrubtea plant, cornj, s and plants, more than I could ever list. The larvae are very polyphagous and eat most green low growing herbs and shrubbery. Most host plants in literature are human food crops such as cabbage, sweet potato, mango or guave because humans have a bias when it comes to reporting food plants of moths that are of economical significance – but in reality this is not the case and larvae feed on a big variety.
  • Natural range: Tropical to temperate Asia; Laos, India, China, Taiwan, Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Indonesia,
  • Polyphagous:  Extremely!
  • Generations:  Multiple per year if kept warm.
  • Family: Erebidae/Arctiidae (tiger moths)
  • Pupation:In a loose silk cocoon covered with hairs, often spun under objects
  • Prefered climate: Warmer, but not always tropical, found in some temperate regions with colder winters too.
  • Special notes:  
  • Estimated wingspan:  35mm-55mm
  • Binomial name:  Aloa lactinea (Cramer, 1777)

If you’ve ever raised a tiger moth before, there is no doubt you can raise Aloa lactinea. The rearing process is very simple and the caterpillars accept many food options. Beyond the host plants I listed on this website, they are very likely to eat most of the herbaceous plants you can find for them; some suggestions to experiment with could be bramble (Rubus), plantain (Plantago), cherries (Prunus), clover (Trifolium), willow (Salix), lettuce (Latuca), bedstraw (Galium) and more.  Now, I did not list any of these food plants above in the food plant list, because I only list plants that are 100% confirmed to be their host plants in literature or through my direct rearing observations – and I make a point to not include things  that could be speculation. However, I do have a strong suspicion they may eat any of these as is usual for Arctiinae.

Keep the caterpillars of Aloa lactinea in an open, well ventilated box that is slippery to them so they cannot scale the walls to escape it. They’re not great climbers, so glass or slippery plastic should repel them. Next, cover the bottom of the container with a layer of salad consisting of herbs and leaves. The larvae will freely feed. The caterpillars also like to hide during the day, so you can also provide a shelter in the form of empty toilet rolls, or egg cartons, so the larvae don’t have to dwell between wet leaves and their own excrements, and can retreat if not feeding.

Aloa lactinea feeding

Aloa lactinea caterpillar

The caterpillars of Aloa lactinea are black and hairy, although in the later instars, they develop orange tufts on their back along the three thorarical segments and the first sub-thorarical segment. The larvae do not sting, but if you handle them roughly they do have itching hairs. They are raised to cocoons in a few months (2-4 months) time depending on the temperature, the hotter, the faster. When fully grown, the caterpillars prefer to make cocoons under objects. A breeders tip is to include egg cartons, empty toilet rolls, dry leaf litter or other objects in the rearing container where the larvae can hide and make cocoons. Otherwise they will spin cocoons on the floor, between their own excrement (yuck!) or moldy leaf litter, which is not optimal.

Aloa lactinea spinning cocoons in egg carton crevices

Losses
Raising the caterpillars to cocoons is extremely easy: I had 0% mortality. Every caterpillar that I owned, made it to a cocoon – a 100% succes rate! I was very happy. But then, much to my frustration, a lot of caterpillars failed to properly pupate. As a result I ended up with quite a lot of deformed pupae, or dead caterpillars inside cocoon. Why did this happen? I don’t know, but it was a little frustrating. Maybe the cocoons had too much ventilation – or too little? I expect it may have had to do with the temperatures and relative humidity. Too dry or too wet? Otherwise, this would have been the perfect rearing with a perfect result. Almost, because there were complications before the finish line. Despite that, I did end up with enough healthy pupae to produce about 20 adult moths, but I raised much more individuals than this, and I had a frustrating >50% mortality rate during pupation.

Aloa lactinea healthy pupa

Aloa lactinea cocoon

Diapause?
This species is able to overwinter. I suspect diapause happens in the larval stage, but it was hard for me to find a source that could confirm this. It is however common for Arctiinae of this group to become inactive during winter as caterpillars that hide under rocks and leaf litter, and go without food for months, only to come out at warm days and continue feeding, pupating in spring or summer. Despite that, I can be wrong here. Moths can overwinter as eggs or cocoons aswell, and until I have confirmations, this part remains speculation. I personally did not overwinter the livestock, as the species is continuously brooded if kept warm in captivity and will never overwinter unless forced to. If you know more about this species message me at bart.coppens@hotmail.com so I can update this section.

No pairings
All the caresheets of this website are of moths I have bred myself, and completed the life cycle of, unless stated otherwise. This article is an exception. I could not get the moths to pair and lay fertile eggs. However, I had a problem with the moths hatching too sporadically, so I never got the chance to give it a serious try.  I raised about 20 moths to cocoons, but only had a male and female together once. These ignored eachother and did not pair for me. This article is based on one single rearing. I need more breeding material of this moth in the future to update this article and conclude it, completing the full cycle. But I did not want to leave this beautiful species out of my website, and a rearing article is better than no article at all. I would love to try to breed this species again, have a full life cycle, and update the article to be complete.

After raising them tot cocoons, expect adults to hatch after 1.5 to 3 months on room temperature. Adults do not feed and are short lived.

Aloa lactinea threat pose

Aloa lactinea 

What a beautiful insect!

 

 

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Written by Bart Coppens, based on a real life breeding experience. Citations; Coppens, B. (2019)

The aim of this website is to provide information about many species of moths and butterflies around the world, with a slight focus on rearing them in captivity.

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