Arctiidae (Tiger-moths)


Note: Arctiidae are not a family, they are Erebidae! But for the purpose of this website I seperate them.

Arctiinae in the wild
Arctiidae, also known at Tiger moths, are a very large and diverse (sub)family of moths, with over 11.000 species. The taxonomical level of Arctiidae now falls under Erebidae, effectively making them Erebidae. However, I still use the indication Arctiidae as a subfamily on this website, for rearing them is quite different from other Erebidae (so is their biology in general.)

The Arctiinae are very hard to generalise as an incredibly biodiverse group. However, many of their features are unique and can be identified. First of all, the majority of Arctiinae have hairy caterpillars that are often referred to as “wooly bears”. Their hairs are arranged in a way that is very typical for Arctiinae – the hairs are bundled together in small tufts that are fixed at the base of their setae. Quite often they have two types of hair – they have longer hairs that cover most of their bodies and that forms a protective furry coat, and below that there is a layer of tiny and sharp defensive hairs that may be sharp enough to cause splinter-like mechanical skin irritations or that are hollow and can even inject venom such as formic acid.

Not all tiger moths have functional mouthparts. While some are able to feed, most are not. Certain families are also capable of mimicing wasps. It seems that Arctiidae in general rely on their warning colouration a lot. Another characteristic for Arctiidae is that they spend a relatively long time in their life in the larval stage  – they even overwinter as caterpillars, which not many Lepidoptera do on a large scale, and often have long development times. Arctiidae caterpillars are more often than not found on the ground, grazing from low growing vegetations, such as herb-like plants and small shrubs. Common weeds like dandelion, nettle, plantain, bramble, clover and sorrel are often their primary sources of food, or comparable low growing plants among the grass. They are covered with hair, for the purpose of protection and thermoregulation.

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Citations: Coppens, B. (2019); Written by Bart Coppens; based on a real life breeding experience [for citations in literature and publications] 

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3 thoughts on “Arctiidae (Tiger-moths)”

  1. I found a caterpillar in my backyard and after a few weeks it turned into a Harnessed Tiger Moth. This species is not native to Northern California. I read about how releasing non-native species could have a negative impact on the local environment. I’m not sure what to do with this moth since I found it here but it isn’t supposed to be here. Thank you!


  2. Do you have any wooly bear caterpillars I can raise? I would love to buy them, maybe a couple.


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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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