Areas galactina, the milky tiger moth, is one of the most beautiful species of tiger moth that I have bred in my career. It is also one of the biggest. It is found in tropical and subtropical Asia and has been recorded in India, China, Taiwan, Phillipines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Nepal, Bhutan and Indonesia. Despite their large distribution, the insect is not very commonly encountered. Interestingly, over 10 subspecies have been described – and each of them is slightly different in colouration and appearance. Depending on their geographical origin, these moths can look quite different from eachother, despite being considered the same species.
Areas galactina seems to live in mountainous habitats and is often recorded around 900m to 2000m. Here they seem to be able to cope with cooler temperatures and high humidity. They appear to have one generation in most localities; cocoons take about one year to hatch as they overwinter and diapause. Adults seem to hatch in spring and are recorded from April to June, depending on the locality and subspecies. What kind of plants they prefer to feed on in the wild remains unclear – however in captivity it becomes evident they are very polyphagous and willing to eat a large variety of plants. Foraging on greater variety of low growing herbaceous plants is a typical feeding strategy for some Arctiinae species and it can be assumed Areas galactina does the same.
- Difficulty rating: Average
- Rearing difficulty: 4.5/10 (From egg to pupa)
- Pairing difficulty: 7.5/10 (Archieving copulations)
- Host plants: Fabaceae such as clover (Trifolium), Asteraceae such as dandelion (Taxaracum), many kinds of Rosaceae like cherries – laurel cherry and sweet cherry (Prunus laurocerasus, Prunus avium) but also bramble (Rubus), oak (Quercus) and willow (Salix) were accepted in captivity.
- Natural range: India, China, Taiwan, Phillipines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Nepal, Bhutan and Indonesia and possibly more places
- Polyphagous: Yes – very open minded
- Generations: Univoltine – only one generation a year. Cocoons overwinter
- Family: Erebidae (Arctiidae)
- Pupation: Spins a cocoon
- Prefered climate: Colder, humid and more temperate mountainous higher altitude habitats within tropical or substropical climates
- Special notes: Raising the moths and pairing the moths is easy, but the cocoons need to be overwintered just right. Not too warm, not too cold, not too dry and not too wet. The cocoon stage is the most difficult.
- Wingspan: 50mm-90mm (Large for Arctiinae)
- Binomial name: Areas galactina (Hoeven, 1840)
In captivity, Areas galactina caterpillars are moderately easy to raise if you keep ventilation in mind and also keep them relatively clean. The young larvae can be reared in plastic boxes and don’t need much space or ventilation, but the big and fully grown larvae do. Being one of the biggest Arctiinae, they also have very large and showy larvae. I was able to find many food plants for them including Fabaceae such as clover (Trifolium), Asteraceae such as dandelion (Taxaracum), many kinds of Rosaceae like cherries – laurel cherry and sweet cherry (Prunus laurocerasus, Prunus avium) but also bramble (Rubus), oak (Quercus) and willow (Salix) were accepted in captivity. Interestingly, caterpillars seem fond of fruits and were quick to eat the fruits of bramble and cherry, even before the leaves in many cases. They do not seem to be very picky and can be raised on a mix of several plants.
The young caterpillars can be kept in airtight plastic boxes. Although they do not need excessive ventilation, do prevent the humidity from building up, because condensation and a too high relative humidity can make them sick. The young instars are bright orange with orange bodies and black stripes on their sides and backs; the later instars have a black body with orange tufts of hair. Fully grown larvae can measure up to 8cm, or bigger in some cases.
The later instar larvae can be raised in plastic boxes with the lid removed or in cages. Rearing them from egg to the cocoon stage can take some time and larvae have slightly variable development times (depending on the quality of the host plant and temperatures aswell). They are tolerant of ‘higher’ humidity, but a lack of ventilation can still make them sick. The caterpillars are solitary, although they tolerate being reared in moderately high densities, it is best not to overcrowd them as people tend to do with tiger moths. Compared to most moth species they are rather slow growing and raising them from eggs tot cocoons may take 2 to 4+ months time, depending on the temperature and quality of the food provided. Some caterpillars are much faster to pupate than others. They seem to enjoy eating the fruits of their host plants – when I raised them on cherry and bramble, the larvae were quick to consume the cherries and bramble fruit. If bothered, these larvae can run very fast despite their large size and may be good at escaping for that reason! I personally raise them on a mix of bramble (Rubus), willow (Salix) and sweet or laurel cherry (Prunus avium and laurocerasus). They don’t seem to adapt to their host plants and remain open minded their entire lives and willing to feed on several plants.
After feeding them well and keeping them clean for several months, the caterpillars will spin cocoons. From my experience, the pupal phase is the most difficult one. Raising the caterpillars is suprisingly easy if you’ve had some basic previous experiences with breeding tiger moths (Arctiinae). The pupae however fail to hatch or die in the hands of many breeders. This is because firstly, the pupae are extremeley sensitive to dessication, and will dry out and die in normal room conditions, and secondly because the pupae can become dormant as the moths seem to have one generation a year in most locaties. To make them emerge as adult moths, it is best to keep them cold during winter. Keep in mind that they are a (sub)tropical species and that frost would kill them. The cocoons of Areas galactina need a gentle but cold season that lasts several months – they are best overwintered between 5C and 10C (degrees Celcius). Keep in mind to store them humid but not wet during this time, to prevent them from drying out. They can be stored in vermiculite, leaf litter, well isolated plastic boxes with moss or wrapped in a towel that should be kept slightly moist. A basement can be used to overwinter them or a garden shed or fridge, just keep in mind to keep them frost free at all costs.
In spring, the cocoons should be in diapause because of the cold temperatures. Now in order to ‘wake’ them up, they require two important things: they need a sudden increase in temperature, from cold to warm, and an increase in humidity from ‘moist’ to ‘extremely wet’. If these conditions are met, the pupae will start to develop and adult moths will hatch in 1 to 3 months time.
When I say extremely wet, I truly mean extremely wet. To make them hatch I burrowed the cocoons in vermiculite in a plastic container in a warm room. Then every single week, I poured a glass of water into the container to keep it soaked. Don’t worry about drowning them or them growing mold: these pupae can handle the very highest possible degree of humidity, and adults will hatch if they are kept warm and humid constantly after overwintering. A few images are shown below here.
The adults of Areas galactina live 1 to 3 weeks and do not seem to feed as adults. It seems possible to pair and reproduce them in captivity, although it is not very easy to pair them. They can be kept in ventilated cages or boxes. Males are smaller than females.
At night females will slightly spread their wings and call males. Females have interesting calling behaviour; they slightly spread their wings open and start ‘tapping’ the surface with their abdomens in a rhythmical way, while protruding the gland they have to produce pheromones with. Presumably a little bit of pheromone is released during each ‘tap’ against the surface they are sitting on. Females are not very active in general but males can have an active flight.
The following subspecies have been recognised:
- Areas galactina orientalis from India: Himalayas in the states of Himachal Pradesh, Uttaranchal and Sikkim, probably
also the Himalayan part of West Bengal; Nepal (Kishida, 1992-1998); Bhutan (Strand, 1919).
- Areas galactina khasiana from China: West Yunnan, West Sichuan; probably northernmost Burma (Myanmar). A
specimen from Tibet, Medog (Fang, 2000) may also belong to this subspecies.
- Areas galactina inouei from China: east Yunnan, east Sichuan; north Vietnam; north Laos; north Thailand. Probably also from mainland Burma
- Areas galactina formosana from Taiwan
- Areas galactina latifascia from the Andaman islands, India
- Areas galactina trigonalis from Malaysia, Indonesia (Sumatra), South Myanmar (Burma)
- Areas galactina galactina from Java and Indonesia (South Sumatra)
- Areas galactina hollowayi from Malaysia/Borneo: Sabah, Sarawak. Probably occurring in Indonesia, Kalimantan (=
- Areas galactina owadai from the Phillipines
These subspecies can be rather different in appearance, some are noticably darker or have yellow instead of orange hindwings, or have heavy black markings. Some subspecies can however only be confidently be identified by the shape of their genitalia if they have been dissected. Intermediate populations of these subspecies have also been found.
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Written by Bart Coppens, based on a real life breeding experience