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Harnessed tiger moth
Apantesis phalerata
Scientific classification Edit this classification
Domain: Eukaryota
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Arthropoda
Class: Insecta
Order: Lepidoptera
Superfamily: Noctuoidea
Family: Erebidae
Subfamily: Arctiinae
Leach, 1815
Type species
Arctia caja
1,400–1,500 genera
Approximately 11,000 species

The Arctiinae (formerly called the family Arctiidae) are a large and diverse subfamily of moths with around 11,000 species found all over the world, including 6,000 neotropical species.[1] This subfamily includes the groups commonly known as tiger moths (or tigers), which usually have bright colours, footmen, which are usually much drabber, lichen moths, and wasp moths. Many species have "hairy" caterpillars that are popularly known as woolly bears or woolly worms. The scientific name Arctiinae refers to this hairiness (Gk. αρκτος = a bear). Some species within the Arctiinae have the word "tussock"' in their common names because they have been misidentified as members of the Lymantriinae subfamily based on the characteristics of the larvae.


The subfamily was previously classified as the family Arctiidae of the superfamily Noctuoidea and is a monophyletic group.[2] Recent phylogenetic studies have shown that the group is most closely related to litter moths Herminiinae and the Old World Aganainae, which are subfamilies of the family Erebidae.[3] The Arctiidae as a whole have been reclassified to represent this relationship. The family was lowered to subfamily status as the Arctiinae within the Erebidae. The subfamilies and tribes of Arctiidae were lowered to tribes and subtribes, respectively, of this new Arctiinae to preserve the internal structure of the group.[4]

Changes in taxon ranks and names are due to the classification of the former Arctiidae as the current Arctiinae.
Taxon rank Former classification Current classification
Superfamily Noctuoidea Noctuoidea
Family Arctiidae Erebidae
Subfamily Arctiinae, Lithosiinae, Syntominae Arctiinae
Tribe Arctiini, Ctenuchini, Eudesmiini, Lithosiini, etc. Arctiini, Lithosiini, Syntomini
Subtribe Arctiina, Ctenuchina, Eudesmiina, Lithosiina, etc.
Genus Many genera Names and rank not changed
Species Many species Names and rank not changed
Taxa of the same background color represent the same group of species before and after its lowering of taxonomic rank, despite the change of suffixes.

Tribes (former subfamilies)[edit]

Many genera are classified into these tribes, while others remain unclassified (incertae sedis).


The most distinctive feature of the subfamily is a tymbal organ on the metathorax.[1] This organ has membranes that are vibrated to produce ultrasonic sounds. They also have thoracic tympanal organs for hearing, a trait with a fairly broad distribution in the Lepidoptera, but the location and structure is distinctive to the subfamily. Other distinctive traits are particular setae (hairs) on the larvae, wing venation, and a pair of glands near the ovipositor.[1] The sounds are used in mating[5] and for defense against predators.[6] Another good distinguishing character of the subfamily is presence of anal glands in females.[7]


Banded woolly bear, Pyrrharctia isabella

Many species retain distasteful or poisonous chemicals acquired from their host plants.[8] Some species also have the ability to make their own defenses.[9] Common defenses include cardiac glycosides (or cardenolides), pyrrolizidine alkaloids, pyrazines, and histamines.[8] Larvae usually acquire these chemicals, and may retain them in the adult stage, but adults can acquire them, too, by regurgitating decomposing plants containing the compounds and sucking up the fluid.[8] Adults can transfer the defenses to their eggs, and males sometimes transfer them to females to help with defense of the eggs. Larval "hairs" may be stinging in some species, due to histamines their caterpillars make.

The insects advertise these defenses with aposematic bright coloration, unusual postures, odours, or in adults, ultrasonic vibrations. Some mimic moths that are poisonous or wasps that sting.[10] The ultrasound signals help nocturnal predators to learn to avoid the moths,[11][12] and for some species can jam bat echolocation.

Behavior and life cycle[edit]

Copulation in tiger moth

Many of the caterpillars and adults are active during the daytime, but most species of this taxon are night-flying. Moths are attracted by light, but one species, Borearctia menetriesii, never comes to the light. Basking to accelerate digestion is common in the larval stages, and social behaviour may range from solitary to gregarious. Like most Lepidoptera, larvae produce a small silk pad before each moult, in which their prolegs are engaged.

If disturbed, woolly bear caterpillars roll into a tight spiral or drop from their perch suspended by a strand of silk. Isabella tiger moths (Pyrrharctia isabella) overwinter in the caterpillar stage. They can survive freezing at moderate subzero temperatures by producing a cryoprotectant chemical.[13] The larvae of another species, Phragmatobia fuliginosa, may be found on snow seeking a place to pupate. Species in Arctic and temperate belts overwinter in the larval stage.

Some tiger moths produce ultrasonic clicks in response to the echolocation of bats to protect themselves.

Many species are polyphagous in the larval stage. Monophagous species, such as the cinnabar moth (Tyria jacobaeae), are scarce.

Although abundant, few species in this subfamily are of economic importance. Even the fall webworm, an abundant and highly polyphagous tree-feeding species that has spread from North America to Asia and Europe, does not do lasting damage to healthy hosts.

Tiger moth laying eggs


Caterpillar on Asteraceae plant

Local folklore of the American Northeast and South hold that "woolly bears" (or "woolly worms" in the South) help humans predict the weather, similar to the groundhog. The forthcoming severity of a winter may be indicated by the amount of black on the Isabella tiger moth's caterpillar—the most familiar woolly bear in North America. More brown than black is said to mean a mild winter, while more black than brown is supposed to mean a harsh winter.[14] However, the relative width of the black band varies among instars, not according to weather.[15] The mythical qualities attributed to woolly bears in America have led to such things as the Woollybear Festival in Ohio, the Woolly Worm Festival in Beattyville, Kentucky and the Woolly Worm Festival in Banner Elk, North Carolina.

Notable species[edit]


See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Scoble, MJ. (1995). The Lepidoptera: Form, Function and Diversity. Second ed. Oxford University Press.
  2. ^ Fibiger, Michael; Hacker, Hermann (June 29, 2005). "Systematic List of the Noctuoidea of Europe (Notodontidae, Nolidae, Arctiidae, Lymantriidae, Erebidae, Micronoctuidae, and Noctuidae)". Esperlana. 11: 93–205.
  3. ^ Zahiri, Reza; et al. (2011). "Molecular phylogenetics of Erebidae (Lepidoptera, Noctuoidea)". Systematic Entomology. 37: 102–124. doi:10.1111/j.1365-3113.2011.00607.x. S2CID 84249695.
  4. ^ Lafontaine, Donald; Schmidt, Christian (19 Mar 2010). "Annotated check list of the Noctuoidea (Insecta, Lepidoptera) of North America north of Mexico". ZooKeys (40): 26. doi:10.3897/zookeys.40.414.
  5. ^ Simmons, RB; Conner, WE (1996). "Ultrasonic signals in the defense and courtship of Euchaetes egle Drury and E. bolteri Stretch. (Lepidoptera: Arctiidae)". Journal of Insect Behavior. 9 (6): 909–919. doi:10.1007/BF02208978. S2CID 29457006.
  6. ^ Fullard, JH; Simmons, JA; Sailant, PA (1994). "Jamming bat echolocation: the dogbane tiger moth Cycnia tenera times its clicks to the terminal attack calls of the big brown bat Eptesicus fuscus.". Journal of Experimental Biology. 194: 285–298. doi:10.1242/jeb.194.1.285. PMID 7964403.
  7. ^ Holloway JD. (1988). The Moths of Borneo 6: Family Arctiidae.
  8. ^ a b c Weller, SJ; Jacobsen, NL; Conner, WE (1999). "The evolution of chemical defenses and mating systems in tiger moths (Lepidoptera: Arctiidae)". Biological Journal of the Linnean Society. 68 (4): 557–578. doi:10.1111/j.1095-8312.1999.tb01188.x.
  9. ^ Ritsuo Nishida (2002). "Sequestration of defensive substances from plants by Lepidoptera". Annual Review of Entomology. 47:57-92: 57–92. doi:10.1146/annurev.ento.47.091201.145121. PMID 11729069.
  10. ^ Simmons, RB; Weller, SE (2002). "What kind of signals do mimetic tiger moths send? A phylogenetic test of wasp mimicry systems (Lepidoptera: Arctiidae: Euchromiini)". Proc R Soc Lond B. 269 (1495): 983–990. doi:10.1098/rspb.2002.1970. PMC 1690985. PMID 12028753.
  11. ^ Dunning, DC; Roeder, KD (1965). "Moth sounds and the insect-catching behavior of bats". Science. 147 (3654): 173–174. Bibcode:1965Sci...147..173D. doi:10.1126/science.147.3654.173. PMID 14220453. S2CID 12047544.
  12. ^ Hristov, NI; Conner, WE (2005). "Sound strategy: acoustic aposematism in the bat–tiger moth arms race". Naturwissenschaften. 92 (4): 164–169. Bibcode:2005NW.....92..164H. doi:10.1007/s00114-005-0611-7. PMID 15772807. S2CID 18306198.
  13. ^ Layne, JR; Kuharsky, DK (2000). "Triggering of cryoprotectant synthesis in the woolly bear caterpillar (Pyrrharctia isabella Lepidoptera: Arctiidae)". J Exp Zool. 286 (4): 367–371. doi:10.1002/(sici)1097-010x(20000301)286:4<367::aid-jez4>;2-f. PMID 10684559.
  14. ^ "Dr. Jeff Masters' WunderBlog : Forecast for the winter of 2005-2006:: Part I, the woolly bears | Weather Underground". Archived from the original on 26 August 2012. Retrieved 13 January 2022.
  15. ^ Wagner, DL. (2005). Caterpillars of Eastern North America. Princeton University Press.

Other references[edit]

Main species catalogs[edit]

  • Dubatolov, VV (2010). "Tiger-moths of Eurasia (Lepidoptera, Arctiidae) (Nyctemerini by Rob de Vos & Vladimir V. Dubatolov)". Neue Entomologische Nachrichten. 65: 1–106.
  • Edwards, ED (1996). "Arctiidae". Monographs on Australian Lepidoptera. 4 (278–286): 368–370.
  • Ferguson, DC; Opler, PA (2006). "Checklist of the Arctiidae (Lepidoptera: Insecta) of the continental United States and Canada". Zootaxa. 1299: 1–33. doi:10.11646/zootaxa.1299.1.1.
  • Goodger DT, Watson A. (1995). The Afrotropical Tiger-Moths. An illustrated catalogue, with generic diagnosis and species distribution, of the Afrotropical Arctiinae (Lepidoptera: Arctiidae). Apollo Books Aps.: Denmark, 55 pp.
  • Watson, A (1971). "An illustrated Catalog of the Neotropic Arctiinae type in the United States National Museum (Lepidoptera: Arctiidae) Part 1". Smithsonian Contributions to Zoology. 50 (50): 1–361. doi:10.5479/si.00810282.50.
  • Watson, A; Goodger, DT (1986). "Catalogue of the Neotropical Tiger-moths". Occasional Papers on Systematic Entomology. 1: 1–71.

Phylogenetic analyses[edit]

  • Da Costa, MA; Weller, SJ (2005). "Phylogeny and classification of Callimorphini (Lepidoptera: Arctiidae: Arctiinae)". Zootaxa. 1025: 1–94. doi:10.11646/zootaxa.1025.1.1.
  • Dubatolov VV (2006) Cladogenesis of tiger-moths of the subfamily Arctiinae: development of a cladogenetic model of the tribe Callimorphini (Lepidoptera, Arctiidae) by the SYNAP method. Euroasian Entomological Journal 5(2):95–104 (in Russian).
  • Dubatolov VV (2008) Construction of the phylogenetic model for the genera of the tribe Arctiini (Lepidoptera, Arctiidae) with the SYNAP method. Entomological Review 88(7):833-837. Translated from: Entomologicheskoe Obozrenie 87(3):653–658
  • Dubatolov VV (2009) Development of a phylogenetic model for the tribe Micrarctiini (Lepidoptera, Arctiidae) by the SYNAP method. Entomological Review 89(3):306–313. Translated from: Zoologicheskii Zhurnal. 88(4):438–445
  • Dowdy, NJ; Keating, SK; Lemmon, AR; Lemmon, EM; Conner, WE; Scott Chialvo, CH; Weller, SJ; Simmons, RB; Sisson, MS; Zaspel, JM (2020). "A deeper meaning for shallow-level phylogenomic studies: nested anchored hybrid enrichment offers great promise for resolving the tiger moth tree of life (Lepidoptera: Erebidae: Arctiinae)". Systematic Entomology. 45 (4): 874–893. doi:10.1111/syen.12433. S2CID 218787287.
  • Jacobson NL, Weller SJ (2002) A cladistic study of the Arctiidae (Lepidoptera) by using characters of immatures and adults. Thomas Say publications in entomology. Entomological Society of America | Lanham, Maryland, 98 pp.

Distribution analyses[edit]

  • Dubatolov, VV (2008). "Analysis of Insect Distribution in the Northern Hemisphere by the Example of the Subfamily Arctiinae (Lepidoptera, Artctiidae)". Contemporary Problems of Ecology. 1 (2): 183–193, 194–203. doi:10.1134/S1995425508020033. S2CID 34805999.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]