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Large nocturnal butterfly with red and black hindwings

Large nocturnal butterfly with red and black hindwings


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Location:

Central Poland, urban environment.

Size:

Around 4 centimeters long.

Time:

Early July.

Images:


That is a moth, in the family Erebidae. It is in the genus Catocala. Wikipedia has a nice page on Lepidoptera of Poland. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Lepidoptera_of_Poland including all the Catocala there.


Are cinnabar moths dangerous?

An exception is among different species of cuckoo which eat hairy and poisonous caterpillars including cinnabar moth larvae. Females can lay up to 300 eggs, usually in batches of 30 to 60 on the underside of ragwort leaves.

Read complete answer here. Keeping this in consideration, are cinnabar moths poisonous to humans?

Cinnabar Moth Caterpillar. The hairs on the caterpillar are poisonous to humans and can cause a nasty rash if touched. Not a pleasant insect to encounter! The attractive Cinnabar Moth is black with red patches on its wings and is thought to take its name from the mineral cinnabar.

Also, are Red moths dangerous? And this common British species has started to emerge, complete with eye-catching red and black wings. The red spots are a sign of a deadly talent. The moths are able to produce hydrogen cyanide - a chemical compound that gives them a bad taste and, in large quantities, can kill a predator.

Subsequently, question is, are cinnabar moths common?

Distribution and Habitat The Cinnabar moth is a common species, well distributed throughout the UK and has a coastal distribution in the northern most counties of England and Scotland.

What happens if you touch a moth?

T/F You can ruin a moth's wing by touching it. While it is not good to touch a butterfly or moth, a moth's wing is designed to lose tiny scales, which look like powder. But the moth can still fly.


Description and Identification

Caterpillar

The appearance of the larva of this butterfly species has not been well documented however, it is likely that the caterpillar is brown with a few rows of dark spines.

The pupa too has not been documented well, but it usually does on its host plant’s stem. It takes several weeks for the adult butterfly to emerge.

Adult Butterfly

Sexual Dimorphism: Strongly present

Color and Appearance: When the wings are open, the male butterflies display a black forewing with the leading edge being either red or orange and a longish, black odor-spot. The hindwings are red or orange with a few golden spots at the wing’s leading edge, with the entire edge being black along with several small golden and black spots at the outer edge. When the wings are closed, the forewings show a black coloration with some green spots, while the hindwings display a golden color with a chain of black spots by the outer edge and a network of black venation. The females’ base color of the dorsal side is dark brown with a few small white spots on the forewings, and large yellow marks on the hindwings. The ventral side is a fainter copy of the dorsal side.


Privet Hawk-moth

The UK's largest resident Hawk-moth. Pink and black striped abdomen and hindwings these are not always visible and the strength of the pink varies.

Flies at night and is attracted to light, feeds on nectar from highly-scented flowers. Freshly emerged adults can sometimes be found resting vertically (e.g. on tree trunks and fence posts).

Larva July-September. Magnificent bright green caterpillar has white and purple stripes and a black curved tail. Overwinters as pupa, 30cm or more underground.

Flight Season

Flies between June and July in one generation.

Size and Family

Caterpillar Food Plants

Wild and garden Privet (Ligustrum), Lilac (Syringa) and young Ash saplings (Fraxinus), Guelder-rose, Holly, Honeysuckle, Snowberry, Vibernum tinus, Forsythia and Spirea.

Habitat

Open woodland, hedgerows, gardens, downland, fens, coastal scrub. Prefers calcareous soils.


Field Biology in Southeastern Ohio

Whenever I do a large post on a particular group of plants or animals, I always seem to start with a disclaimer. Not all of the skippers are illustrated here. I simply haven't seen all the species in Ohio. But in the interest of keeping my posts going, here are a few.

Lepidoptera are the Butterflies & Moths. There are those who like to add AND the Skippers. Like Hymenoptera, the bees, wasps, ants, and Sawflies. Sawflies are a type of wasp, but with fat bodies. Same goes for the Skippers. They are a "type" of butterfly, but have fatter bodies. They are extremely fast fliers, which means they have strong wing muscles. As any collector can tell you, pinning and spreading their wings is quite a challenge. Another difference is many species sit with their upper wings folded, and the hindwings open.

Also look at their antennae. Most don't end in a club. They are swollen, but then form a fine tip. These tips are often curved on many species. There are about 50 different Skippers in Ohio. Over 40 of them are known to breed here. The others are strays, having been recorded only once or twice in the state.

I have collected over 30 of them found in Ohio. My goal now is to photograph them. I could expand this post and illustrate mounted specimens, but as I have been fond of saying, a post that size could go on forever. This is the most difficult family of Butterflies to identify by photos, many of them you need to have 'in hand' to examine fine details. For now I will stick to live shots, but hope to add more on the subject at a later date.

One of our largest and most common species is the Silver-spotted Skipper, Epargyreus clarus. If all you see is the inside of the wings, it could be mistaken for the slightly smaller Golden-banded Skipper.

A quick look at the backside, and the silvery-white patch in the middle of the wing is unmistakable. This species is found statewide.

At the other end of the size spectrum is our smallest species, the Least Skipper, Ancyloxypha numitor. It has a longer body than other skippers. The wings are all orange on the outside, and darker orange inside. These are weak fliers when compared to other members of the family, so look for them in low vegetation near the ground.

The Least Skipper ranges all the way down to Florida, where this shot was taken. It's nectaring on Lippia flowers. In Florida there is a similar looking species called the Skipperling. That species has a broad white band across the back of the hindwing.

Some of the earliest skippers to come out in the spring are the Dusky Wings. These are medium sized skippers that are brown with mottled hindwings. That pretty much describes all of them, as they look quite alike.

One of the things I use to narrow down the species is the gray linebordered by black dots. That makes this either the Dreamy Dusky Wing, Erynnis icelus, or the Sleepy Dusky Wing, Erynnis brizo. Sleepy tends to be found more in dry oak woods, while Dreamy prefers Willows and Poplars and a wetter area. Dreamy usually has much larger gray patches on the forewings than you see here. To me this looks more like a Sleepy, but I have been told this photo is a Dreamy, so I defer to the experts.

Another group of similar looking species include Juvenal's, Horace's, and Mottled Dusky Wings. These can be recognized by the silvery white spots in the upper wings. The Mottled Dusky Wing, mostly found in southern Ohio, has large black 'mottling' on the hindwings.

These are photos of Juvenal's Dusky Wing, Erynnis juvenalis. Notice the two light spots on the hindwing. If these are present on the back of the wing, it's Juvenal's, if absent, it's Horace's Dusky Wing. Also, Juvenal's flies only in the spring months. Horace's can be found all summer. Another thing this group of skippers have in common, the margin of the wing appears indented along the top. Dusky Wings commonly bask on the ground in open sunlight.

Here are the two spots I mentioned. Yes, the specimen is posed, but I wanted to make sure you saw the spots I was referring to.

Wild Indigo Dusky Wing, Erynnis baptisiae. I found this species flying among the Blue and White False Indigos (Baptisia) on our prairie. I recognize this species by looking for the several large silvery white cells in the upper part of the forewing, followed by a couple tannish-brown rectangle cells below.

Historically, this species was restricted to fields and open prairies. The flower Crown Vetch, Coronilla varia, has been planted throughout the state, and has broadened the range of this butterfly. Crown Vetch is now the primary host for the caterpillars.

This is the Northern Cloudy Wing, Thorybes pylades. Sometimes mistaken for a Dusky Wing, they lack the mottling of that group. Essentially the wings are a chocolate brown. Look for two rows of 3-4 small white dots coming down from the wing margin. The center of the wing will contain one or two other silvery white spots. The markings are the same on the back. In the similar Southern Cloudy Wing, those little spots are large broad rectangles. Look for this flying along forest edges.

The Little Glassy Wing, Pompeius verna, is one of the smaller, rapid flying skippers. Dark like the Cloudy Wing, it has only one row of small spots coming down from the wing margin. The center spots of the Cloudy Wing are highly separated, in the Glassy Wing they are crowded together. The spots are somewhat translucent.

The backside shows the same spot arrangement, but the hindwing often hides them. The hindwing may or may not show faint spots. Look for the white spot behind the swollen portion of the antennae.

Common Sooty Wing, Pholisora catullus. This butterfly is all black. Look for the S shaped row of white spots. A few pin hole sized spots may also be present. On females, the spots are more obvious. The speckled white head may also aid in identification. These are found state wide in open fields.

Broken-dash Skippers. The top one is the Northern Broken-dash, Wallengrenia egeremet. South of Ohio is the Southern Broken-dash, W. otho. These are orangish-red butterflies when looking from behind. The hindwings have a semi-circular pattern of yellow spots. The forewings are edged in gray.

The inside usually has at least one large light colored rectangular spot. The arrow indicates where the common name comes from. There is a black line near the base of the hindwing. It appears busted in half, like a broken bat. Click on the photo for a closer look. This is a summer species found statewide.

The Sachem Skipper, Atalopedes campestris. Look for white squares randomly placed on the backside. The largest one, out near the edge of the forewing, is transparent. This is especially noticeable on these females. She also has a transparent spot on the inside, right behind a black dash. Both sexes have a black mark inside, but it is not broken like the previous species. In males, the black mark (or stigma) may be square, and half black, half gray. Look for these in open fields, as the caterpillars are grass feeders.

Here is another species I find difficult to identify when looking at the inside of the wings. It's the Peck's Skipper, Polites peckius. They too have a black dash inside the forewings. It is shaped like a skinny S, but not visible when they hold their wings like this.

I posted several of these because the underside is so distinct. Two semi-circular rows of yellow spots. The inside one narrow, the outside patch broad. It's one of the most common of our small skippers, having been found in every county.

Zabulon Skipper, Poanes zabulon. A very sexually dimorphic species. Male above, female below. The rusty colored female is recognized by the thin white streak at the top of the hindwing.

The male has one big round yellow patch interspersed with dark spots. This yellow patch fills up most of the hindwing.

Here is Sachem, Peck's, and Zabulon side by side. If you are specifically in the field to identify skippers, and it takes too long to sort through pages in a book, simply create your own field guide. Make plates of species you have identified and print them out. It can serve as a quick reference guide.

Flying low to the ground is the Hobomok Skipper, Poanes hobomok. It prefers sunny openings in woodland forests. Both the front and hind wing show large solid patches of yellow-orange. It most closely resembles zabulon, but without the pepper marks in the wings.


There is one skipper called the Whirlabout. That's what all of these do. When disturbed they whirl in a very erratic pattern. First they are flying in front of you, and suddenly they disappear. Don't worry, just turn around, they probably landed six feet behind you.


Pennyroyal Research

Below is an identification key I created, which includes some of the most common butterfly species found in the Central Queensland area. The key uses clearly visible features such as size, colour, and spots, so may not correctly identify all variations of a species. The butterflies which make up the key are:

  • Caper White (Belenois java teutonia)
  • Small Grass-yellow (Eurema smilax)
  • Clearwing Swallowtail (Cressida Cressida)
  • Glasswing (Acraea andromacha)
  • Evening Brown (Melanitis leda)
  • Meadow Argus (Junonia villida)
  • Australian Painted Lady (Vanessa kershawi)
  • Common Grass-blue (Zizina labradus)
  • Orchard Swallowtail (Papilio aegeus)
  • Varied Eggfly (Hypolimnas bolina)
  • Common Crow (Euploea core)

Dichotomous Key

1a Small wingspan typically <35 mm across 3
1b Wingspan >35 mm across 2

2a Medium wingspan typically 40-70 mm 6
2b Large wingspan typically >75 mm 4

3a Mainly yellow coloured black along outer edge of forewings
Eurema smilax
3b Wings grey with violet blue Zizina labradus

4a Hind wings scalloped with red spots forewings wholly or partly
transparent 5
4b Velvet black bright purple or orange spots on wings
Hypolimnas bolina

5a Forewings wholly transparent with two large black spots no blue present red on
abdomen and around head Cressida cressida
5b Forewings only partly transparent blue hints on upper and/or underside of
hindwing Papilio aegeus

6a Wings mainly brown and/or orange 7
6b Wings not mainly brown or orange 9

7a Relatively small (40-50 mm) many orange patches on hind and forewings
8
7b Larger (60-75 mm) mainly brown coloured orange patch on forewing enclosing
two dark spots with white centres numerous vivid ‘eyespots’ underneath
Melanitis leda

8a Mainly brown two spots on each wing, consisting of orange, black and purple
rings underside grey with one dark spot on forewings visible
Junonia villida
8b Mainly orange black with white spots on edge of forewings four small blue spots
ringed with black on hindwing underside red, orange and brown with intricate
patterning Vanessa kershawi

9a Wings mainly black with many white spots no other colours visible
Euploea core
9b Wings mainly white, yellow or transparent on upperside
10

10a Forewings transparent hindwings cream and black with yellow spots on trailing
edge abdomen with black and yellow patterning
Acraea andromacha
10b Wings mainly white or yellow black on edges of all wings, with pale spots bright
yellow on underside black veins clearly visible on underside
Belenois java teutonia

A PDF of the key, which includes information and photographs of each species, is available here.


Field Biology in Southeastern Ohio

Whenever I do a large post on a particular group of plants or animals, I always seem to start with a disclaimer. Not all of the skippers are illustrated here. I simply haven't seen all the species in Ohio. But in the interest of keeping my posts going, here are a few.

Lepidoptera are the Butterflies & Moths. There are those who like to add AND the Skippers. Like Hymenoptera, the bees, wasps, ants, and Sawflies. Sawflies are a type of wasp, but with fat bodies. Same goes for the Skippers. They are a "type" of butterfly, but have fatter bodies. They are extremely fast fliers, which means they have strong wing muscles. As any collector can tell you, pinning and spreading their wings is quite a challenge. Another difference is many species sit with their upper wings folded, and the hindwings open.

Also look at their antennae. Most don't end in a club. They are swollen, but then form a fine tip. These tips are often curved on many species. There are about 50 different Skippers in Ohio. Over 40 of them are known to breed here. The others are strays, having been recorded only once or twice in the state.

I have collected over 30 of them found in Ohio. My goal now is to photograph them. I could expand this post and illustrate mounted specimens, but as I have been fond of saying, a post that size could go on forever. This is the most difficult family of Butterflies to identify by photos, many of them you need to have 'in hand' to examine fine details. For now I will stick to live shots, but hope to add more on the subject at a later date.

One of our largest and most common species is the Silver-spotted Skipper, Epargyreus clarus. If all you see is the inside of the wings, it could be mistaken for the slightly smaller Golden-banded Skipper.

A quick look at the backside, and the silvery-white patch in the middle of the wing is unmistakable. This species is found statewide.

At the other end of the size spectrum is our smallest species, the Least Skipper, Ancyloxypha numitor. It has a longer body than other skippers. The wings are all orange on the outside, and darker orange inside. These are weak fliers when compared to other members of the family, so look for them in low vegetation near the ground.

The Least Skipper ranges all the way down to Florida, where this shot was taken. It's nectaring on Lippia flowers. In Florida there is a similar looking species called the Skipperling. That species has a broad white band across the back of the hindwing.

Some of the earliest skippers to come out in the spring are the Dusky Wings. These are medium sized skippers that are brown with mottled hindwings. That pretty much describes all of them, as they look quite alike.

One of the things I use to narrow down the species is the gray linebordered by black dots. That makes this either the Dreamy Dusky Wing, Erynnis icelus, or the Sleepy Dusky Wing, Erynnis brizo. Sleepy tends to be found more in dry oak woods, while Dreamy prefers Willows and Poplars and a wetter area. Dreamy usually has much larger gray patches on the forewings than you see here. To me this looks more like a Sleepy, but I have been told this photo is a Dreamy, so I defer to the experts.

Another group of similar looking species include Juvenal's, Horace's, and Mottled Dusky Wings. These can be recognized by the silvery white spots in the upper wings. The Mottled Dusky Wing, mostly found in southern Ohio, has large black 'mottling' on the hindwings.

These are photos of Juvenal's Dusky Wing, Erynnis juvenalis. Notice the two light spots on the hindwing. If these are present on the back of the wing, it's Juvenal's, if absent, it's Horace's Dusky Wing. Also, Juvenal's flies only in the spring months. Horace's can be found all summer. Another thing this group of skippers have in common, the margin of the wing appears indented along the top. Dusky Wings commonly bask on the ground in open sunlight.

Here are the two spots I mentioned. Yes, the specimen is posed, but I wanted to make sure you saw the spots I was referring to.

Wild Indigo Dusky Wing, Erynnis baptisiae. I found this species flying among the Blue and White False Indigos (Baptisia) on our prairie. I recognize this species by looking for the several large silvery white cells in the upper part of the forewing, followed by a couple tannish-brown rectangle cells below.

Historically, this species was restricted to fields and open prairies. The flower Crown Vetch, Coronilla varia, has been planted throughout the state, and has broadened the range of this butterfly. Crown Vetch is now the primary host for the caterpillars.

This is the Northern Cloudy Wing, Thorybes pylades. Sometimes mistaken for a Dusky Wing, they lack the mottling of that group. Essentially the wings are a chocolate brown. Look for two rows of 3-4 small white dots coming down from the wing margin. The center of the wing will contain one or two other silvery white spots. The markings are the same on the back. In the similar Southern Cloudy Wing, those little spots are large broad rectangles. Look for this flying along forest edges.

The Little Glassy Wing, Pompeius verna, is one of the smaller, rapid flying skippers. Dark like the Cloudy Wing, it has only one row of small spots coming down from the wing margin. The center spots of the Cloudy Wing are highly separated, in the Glassy Wing they are crowded together. The spots are somewhat translucent.

The backside shows the same spot arrangement, but the hindwing often hides them. The hindwing may or may not show faint spots. Look for the white spot behind the swollen portion of the antennae.

Common Sooty Wing, Pholisora catullus. This butterfly is all black. Look for the S shaped row of white spots. A few pin hole sized spots may also be present. On females, the spots are more obvious. The speckled white head may also aid in identification. These are found state wide in open fields.

Broken-dash Skippers. The top one is the Northern Broken-dash, Wallengrenia egeremet. South of Ohio is the Southern Broken-dash, W. otho. These are orangish-red butterflies when looking from behind. The hindwings have a semi-circular pattern of yellow spots. The forewings are edged in gray.

The inside usually has at least one large light colored rectangular spot. The arrow indicates where the common name comes from. There is a black line near the base of the hindwing. It appears busted in half, like a broken bat. Click on the photo for a closer look. This is a summer species found statewide.

The Sachem Skipper, Atalopedes campestris. Look for white squares randomly placed on the backside. The largest one, out near the edge of the forewing, is transparent. This is especially noticeable on these females. She also has a transparent spot on the inside, right behind a black dash. Both sexes have a black mark inside, but it is not broken like the previous species. In males, the black mark (or stigma) may be square, and half black, half gray. Look for these in open fields, as the caterpillars are grass feeders.

Here is another species I find difficult to identify when looking at the inside of the wings. It's the Peck's Skipper, Polites peckius. They too have a black dash inside the forewings. It is shaped like a skinny S, but not visible when they hold their wings like this.

I posted several of these because the underside is so distinct. Two semi-circular rows of yellow spots. The inside one narrow, the outside patch broad. It's one of the most common of our small skippers, having been found in every county.

Zabulon Skipper, Poanes zabulon. A very sexually dimorphic species. Male above, female below. The rusty colored female is recognized by the thin white streak at the top of the hindwing.

The male has one big round yellow patch interspersed with dark spots. This yellow patch fills up most of the hindwing.

Here is Sachem, Peck's, and Zabulon side by side. If you are specifically in the field to identify skippers, and it takes too long to sort through pages in a book, simply create your own field guide. Make plates of species you have identified and print them out. It can serve as a quick reference guide.

Flying low to the ground is the Hobomok Skipper, Poanes hobomok. It prefers sunny openings in woodland forests. Both the front and hind wing show large solid patches of yellow-orange. It most closely resembles zabulon, but without the pepper marks in the wings.


There is one skipper called the Whirlabout. That's what all of these do. When disturbed they whirl in a very erratic pattern. First they are flying in front of you, and suddenly they disappear. Don't worry, just turn around, they probably landed six feet behind you.


Many roles of color patterns in black swallowtail butterflies

Black swallowtails caterpillar. Photo by Jeff Mitton.

Six species of swallowtail butterflies occur locally, and they combine yellow, black, orange. blue and red in several diverse patterns that invariably catch the eye. We can marvel at them, but our enjoyment of these fluttering beauties is enhanced by an appreciation of the evolutionary forces acting on the color patterns. The stunning pattern of black swallowtails has attracted the activities of many biologists and their studies provide considerable insight into the natural history black swallowtails, Papilio polyxenes.

After an egg hatches, the caterpillar eats, grows and molts (sheds its skin) four times, passing through five instars to accommodate its growth. The first instar is black with a white band or saddle around its midsection. If the caterpillar does not move and if you do not look carefully, you will probably mistake it for a bird dropping. Some biologists assert that the first instar is a mimic of a bird dropping, but others seek another term because they feel that the similarity of an animal to an inanimate object does not fit into the concept of mimicry. A recent paper used the word masquerade for the caterpillar's similarity to a bird dropping, so we will go with that.

As caterpillars molt and grow they completely change their appearance. Fourth and fifth instars have white prolegs with black dots and their bodies have a series of colored rings: white, pale green, and black with large orange dots. Some authors have stated that these late instar colors are cryptic, making the caterpillar difficult to detect in the dappled sunlight within the foliage of a fennel or a wild carrot. I disagree. It seems to me that the bright orange, black, bright white and light green and sharply contrasting, adjacent colors make the caterpillars conspicuous, not cryptic.

Black swallowtails are mimics of poisonous pipevine swallowtails. Photo by Jeff Mitton.

Aposematic or warning coloration advertises something distasteful or noxious or poisonous. If the bright colors do not dissuade a predator, the caterpillar everts its osmeterium, a structure on its head with two prongs, secreting a foul and irritating slime of chemicals. The caterpillar aggressively rubs the osmeterium against the ant or other predator to repel it.

Black swallowtails are mimics of poisonous pipevine swallowtails. Photo by Jeff Mitton.

Black swallowtail adults are sexually dimorphic, meaning that they have different color patterns--their ventral wing surfaces and their bodies are the same but their dorsal patterns differ. Thorax and abdomen are black with yellow dots, and on the ventral side, the forewings have two rows of yellow dots on a black background. The ventral sides of the hindwings display two rows of orange spots with subtle yellow edges and diffuse clouds of tiny blue dots between the rows. This pattern is quite similar to that of the pipevine swallowtail, Battus philenor, whose geographic range overlaps the range of the black swallowtail. The pipevine swallowtail is highly poisonous, for its caterpillars feed on plants in the genus Aristolochia, which are defended by aristolochic acids. Pipevine swallowtail caterpillars consume the leaves and store or sequester poisonous aristolochic acids, which are retained by pupae and adults. Pipevine swallowtails are aposematically colored--the orange spots on the ventral hindwings warn of chemical defenses. Black swallowtail adults have no chemical defenses, but their similarity to a poisonous butterfly makes predators wary, protecting the undefended black swallowtails. Protection gained from similarity to a poisonous model is called mimicry.

The dorsal patterns of female black swallowtails and pipevine swallowtails are very similar--two rows of yellow dots, diffuse clouds of tiny blue dots, and an orange, yellow and black eyespot-- extending mimicry to the dorsal surfaces. Male black swallowtails have different dorsal patterns--much more yellow, very little blue, an eyespot. So, males have the protection of mimicry when they are resting with wings folded together over the abdomen. But they are not mimetic when they spread their wings to gather heat from sunlight. So why do males have this pattern, which seems to put them at a disadvantage?

Some males have dorsal patterns that look like that of the females. Studies comparing males with female patterns and traditional males found that females showed no mating preference. But when it came to the stiff competition among males for mating territories, males with female patterns were at a disadvantage. Males with good mating territories mated with many females, but those without territories had little or no opportunity for reproduction. This is sexual selection, which is natural selection in the context of mating. So traditional males lose some degree of mimicry, but win the contests for mating territories.

The colors and patterns of black swallowtails reveal the diversity of evolutionary dynamics acting on the sexes and the various life-history stages. Caterpillars start off masquerading as bird droppings but switch to aposematic coloration. Adult females mimic a poisonous species. Males have ventral color patterns for mimicry and most males develop a dorsal pattern that provides an edge during competitions to acquire and keep a mating territory. A few males develop the female dorsal pattern, enhancing their mimicry. A glimpse of a black swallowtail sipping nectar from a flower gives the impression of a serene insect with an idyllic existence. But careful studies reveal a life filled with hazards and challenges.


Large nocturnal butterfly with red and black hindwings - Biology

The giant leopard moth is our largest eastern tiger moth. It was formerly in the family Arctiidae which now composes the subfamily Arctiinae in the family Erebidae (Beadle & Leckie 2012). Giant leopard moths are nocturnal (Fullard & Napoleone 2001). Males are commonly attracted to lights at night. Sometimes dozens of males come to bright lights set out in good habitat (Marc Minno personal communication). Females are less common around lights.

Figure 1. Giant leopard moth, Hypercompe scribonia (Stoll 1790). Photograph by Donald W. Hall, University of Florida.

Synonymy (Back to Top)

The giant leopard moth has been known by a number of synonyms. The most common synonyms in the scientific literature are Ecpantheria scribonia, Ecpantheria deflorata, and Ecpantheria denudata. For a discussion on the correct name for the giant leopard moth, see Honey and Young (1997). For a detailed taxonomic history and synonymy, see Heppner (2003).

Distribution (Back to Top)

The giant leopard moth is found from southern Ontario south to Florida and west to Minnesota and Texas (Wagner 2005 North American Moth Photographers Group map).

Description (Back to Top)

Eggs: The nearly spherical eggs are 0.8 mm in diameter and pearly gray in color (Dyar 1891).

Larvae: The head, thorax, and abdominal segments 4, 5, 9, and 10 of early instars are orange. Abdominal segments 1-3 and 6-8 are dark brown, and there are orange mid-dorsal and lateral lines that run the length of the body. The spiracles are yellow. The body is covered with stiff black setae.

Figure 2. Early instar giant woolly bear, Hypercompe scribonia (Stoll 1790). Photograph by Lyle Buss, University of Florida.

Full-grown giant woolly bears are approximately 75 mm (about 3 inches) in length (Habeck 1987). They are black with red spiracles and inter-segmental areas and are covered with shiny black, bristly setae. For detailed descriptions of all instars see Dyar (1891).

Figure 3. Full-grown giant woolly bear, Hypercompe scribonia (Stoll 1790). Photograph by Donald W. Hall, University of Florida.

Cocoons & Pupae: Pupae are black with reddish brown spiracles (Figure 2). Pupae are enclosed in thin, yellow, net-like cocoons with small amber beads at the junctions of the threads (Dyar 1891).

Figure 4. Giant leopard moth, Hypercompe scribonia (Stoll 1790), pupa with last instar larval exuviae (shed exoskeleton). Photograph by Donald W. Hall, University of Florida.

Adults: The wing span is 5.7-9.1 cm (approx. 2.25-3.6 in.) (Covell 2005). Adults are white with hollow black (or sometimes iridescent blue) spots on the thorax and black spots on the front wings that may be hollow or solid (Figure 3). Spots on the costal margin (leading edge) tend to be solid. The spots are highly variable, and in some specimens they are solid instead of hollow. Rarely, the spots are missing entirely (Minno & Minno 1991). In older specimens, the scales tend to be lost near the wing margins, rendering those areas translucent (Covell 2005).

The dorsal aspect of the abdomen is iridescent, blue-black with orange lateral areas or occasionally orange with large blue-black spots. The legs also have iridescent, blue-black setae.

Figure 5. Giant leopard moth, Hypercompe scribonia (Stoll 1790), adult, dorsal view. Photograph by Donald W. Hall, University of Florida.

Life Cycle (Back to Top)

There is a single brood in the North and two or more broods in the South. Nearly full-grown larvae overwinter and complete their development in the spring (Wagner 2005). In northern latitudes, larvae accumulate glycerol to enhance their diapause freeze tolerance (Layne 2005).

Host Plants (Back to Top)

The giant woolly bear is polyphagous and feeds on a variety of low-growing forbs and woody plants. Table 1. is a list of recorded hosts compiled from Butterflies and Moths of North America (Undated), Concello (1970), Heppner (2005), and Robinson et al. (undated). Scientific and common names are from the Plants Database - USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (2014). Taxonomic information and photographs of most of the plants in Table 1. are available at the Plants Database (2014). There is little doubt the giant woolly bear will feed on many other species of plants in addition to those listed in Table 1.

Table 1. Reported Host Plants for Hypercompe scribonia (Stoll 1790) - Alphabetical Order

Scientific Name Common Name Family
Bougainvillea sp. (probably B. glabra) paperflower Nyctaginaceae
Brassica oleracea cabbage Brassicaceae
Citrus jambhiri rough lemon Rutaceae
Citrus limon lemon Rutaceae
Citrus reticulata unshu orange Rutaceae
Citrus sinensis sweet orange Rutaceae
Poinsettia (=Euphorbia) heterophylla Mexican fireplant Euphorbiaceae
Helianthus sp. sunflower Asteraceae
Helianthus decapetalus thinleaf sunflower Asteraceae
Illicium parviflorum Yellow anisetree Illiciaceae
Lonicera tatarica Tatarian honeysuckle Caprifoliaceae
Magnolia sp. magnolia Magnoliaceae
Musa acuminata banana Musaceae
Persea americana avocado Lauraceae
Phytolacca americana American pokeweed Phytolaccaceae
Plantago sp. plantain Plantaginaceae
Plantago lanceolata narrowleaf plantain Plantaginaceae
Plantago rugelii blackseed plantain Plantaginaceae
Polypodium aureum golden polypody Polypodiaceae
Prunus sp. cherry Rosaceae
Pyrostegia venusta flamevine Bignoniaceae
Ricinus communis castorbean Euphorbiaceae
Robinia pseudoacacia Black locust Fabaceae
Salix sp. willow Salicaceae
Taraxacum sp. (probably officinale) dandelion Asteraceae
Tillandsia setacea southern needleleaf Bromeliaceae
Viola sp. violet Violaceae

Many tiger moth larvae feed briefly on a plant and then move to a different plant (often of a different species) before continuing their feeding. It is likely that the giant leopard moth has the same feeding behavior (Singer & Bernays 2009). This &ldquofood-mixing&rdquo results in the likelihood of eating plants that contain toxic chemicals that the caterpillars may sequester for their own defense.

Giant leopard moth caterpillars are primarily nocturnal, but are often seen crossing roads during the fall while seeking sites to spend the winter or found under leaves or in wood piles by people doing yard work during spring and fall (Wagner 2009). They sometimes climb trees and have occasionally been found feeding at Lepidopterists&rsquo sugar baits on tree trunks used to attract adult underwing moths (Wagner 2009).

Natural Enemies (Back to Top)

Defenses against natural enemies: Tiger moth larvae lack stinging spines and do not bite. However, the stiff setae of giant woolly bears are probably effective defenses against many invertebrate and vertebrate predators. When threatened, giant woolly bears curl up tightly to protect their vulnerable undersides. When picked up, their stiff, smooth spines are bent backward and they tend to push the caterpillars forward and out of the grip (Wagner 2009). Because of this, it is virtually impossible to forcibly uncurl them when they are in the defensive posture. Also, in this defensive posture, their bright red inter-segmental areas are highly visible (Figure 4) as an aposematic display to warn potential predators that they are unpalatable.

Figure 6. Giant leopard moth, Hypercompe scribonia (Stoll 1790), caterpillar in defensive pose. Photograph by Donald W. Hall, University of Florida.

It is likely that both the giant leopard moths and their caterpillars are chemically protected by chemicals sequestered from their food plants.

The spots on the forewings of adult giant leopard moths may serve as disruptive coloration to make them less conspicuous to predators (Simmons 2009). When threatened, adults &ldquofeign death&rdquo and curl the abdomen to display their brightly colored abdomen. They also secrete a droplet of yellow, acrid fluid from the thoracic glands (Figure 5) (Wagner 2009) that is also bitter tasting (Marc Minno personal communication).

Figure 7. Giant leopard moth, Hypercompe scribonia (Stoll 1790), adult in defensive posture. Photograph by Donald W. Hall, University of Florida.

Adult giant leopard moths and many other tiger moths have ears, probably to detect the echo-location sonar of hunting bats allowing them to take evasive action (Fullard & Napoleone 2001). The ears are located immediately behind the bases of the hind wings.

Figure 8. Giant leopard moth, Hypercompe scribonia (Stoll 1790), with wings and some setae removed to show ears. Photograph by Donald W. Hall, University of Florida.

Many tiger moths have thoracic tymbal organs with which they produce high frequency clicks in response to bat sonar (Corcoran et al. 2010). In some species, the clicks may serve as an aposematic signal (warning) of the moths&rsquo chemical defenses (Corcoran et al. 2010), and in one species of tiger moth the clicks have been demonstrated to jam the bats&rsquo sonar (Corcoran et al. 2011). It is not known whether adult giant leopard moths produce sounds.

Although giant leopard moth adults and caterpillars are probably well-defended against most predators, the caterpillars are frequently parasitized, particularly by tachinid flies.

Parasitoids:

Arnaud (1978) listed the following tachinid fly parasitoids of the giant leopard moth. Some of the names from Arnaud have been updated by O&rsquoHara (2013a & 2013b):

Tachinid parasitoids of Hypercompe scribonia from Arnaud (1978) (listed under synonym Ecpantheria deflorata)

Aplomya helvina (Coquillet) &mdash updated name Phebellia helvina [Coquillet] (O&rsquoHara 2013).
Archytas metallicus (Robineau-Desvoidy)
Carcelia reclinata (Aldrich & Webber)
Gymnocarcelia ricinorum Townsend (not listed in O&rsquohara 2013)
Juriniopsis adusta (Wulp)
Juriniopsis probably floridensis Townsend
Leschenaultia adusta (Loew)

Krombein et al. (1979) listed three ichneumonid wasp parasitoids of the giant leopard moth:

Protopelmus atrocaeruleus (Cresson) p. 518
Ichneumon orpheus Cresson p. 532
Enicospilus glabratus (Say) p. 702

Figure 9. Giant leopard moth, Hypercompe scribonia (Stoll 1790), cadaver and parasitoid wasp. Photograph by Lyle Buss, University of Florida.

Control (Back to Top)

The giant leopard moth is not economically important and control measures are neither recommended nor required.

Acknowledgement (Back to Top)

The author would like to acknowledge Marc Minno for reviewing this article and offering helpful suggestions.

Selected References (Back to Top)

  • Arnaud PH. 1978. A Host-Parasite Catalog of North American Tachinidae (Diptera). United States Department of Agriculture Miscellaneous Publication 1319. Washington, D.C.
  • Beadle D, Leckie S. 2012. Petersen Field Guide to Moths of Northeastern North America. Houghton Mifflin Publishing Company. New York, New York. 611 pp.
  • Butterflies and Moths of North America. http://www.butterfliesandmoths.org/species/Hypercompe-scribonia
  • Concello, JA, Jr. 1970. A new food plant record for Ecpantheria scribonia (Arctiidae). Journal of the Lepidopterists' Society 24: 227.
  • Corcoran AJ, Conner WE, Barber JR. 2010. Anti-bat tiger moth sounds: form and function. Current Zoology 56(3): 358-369.
  • Corcoran AJ, Barber FR, Hristov NI, Conner WE. 2011. How do tiger moths jam sonar? The Journal of Experimental Biology 214: 2416-2425.
  • Covell CV. 2005. A Field Guide to the Moths of Eastern North America. Virginia Museum of Natural History. Special Publication Number 12. 496 pp.
  • Dyar H. 1891. Notes on the life history of Ecpantheria scribonia, stoll. The Canadian Entomologist 23:106-108.
  • Fullard JH, Napoleone N. 2001. Diel flight periodicity and the evolution of auditory defenses in the Macrolepidoptera. Animal Behaviour 62: 349-368.
  • Habeck DH. 1987. Arctiidae (Noctuoidea). In Stehr FW. (ed.). Immature Insects. Kendall/Hunt Publishing Company. Dubuque, Iowa. pp. 538-542.
  • Heppner JB. 2003. Lepidoptera of Florida. Part 1. Introduction and Catalog. Volume 17 of Arthropods of Florida and Neighboring Land Areas. Division of Plant Industry. Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. Gainesville, Florida. 670 pp.
  • Honey MR, Young M. 1997. The correct name of the North American great leopard moth. Entomologist's Record and Journal of Variation 109: 25-27.
  • Krombein KV, Hurd Jr.PD, Smith DR, Burks BD. 1979. Catalog of Hymenoptera in America North of Mexico. Volume 1. Symphyta and Apocrita (Parasitica). Smithsonian Institution Press. Washington, D.C. 1198 pp.
  • Layne JR. 2005. Freeze tolerance and cryoprotection in caterpillars of the giant leopard moth (Ecpantheria scribonia) (Lepidoptera: Arctiidae). Journal of Thermal Biology 30: 267-271.
  • Minno, MC, Minno AK. 1991. A Florida leopard moth with missing spots (Lepidoptera: Arctiidae). Tropical Lepidoptera 2: 52.
  • North American Moth Photographers Group map. http://mothphotographersgroup.msstate.edu/large_map.php?hodges=8146
  • O&rsquoHara JE. 2013. Taxonomic and Host Catalogue of the Tachinidae of America North of Mexico. (Last update: 10 December 2013)
  • Plants Database. 2014. USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service.
  • Robinson GS, Ackery PR, Kitching IJ, Beccaloni GW, Hernândez LM. HOSTS - a Database of the World's Lepidopteran Hostplants.
  • Simmons R. 2009. Adaptive coloration and mimicry. In Connor, WE, (ed.). Tiger Moths and Woolly Bears: Behavior, Ecology, and Evolution of the Arctiidae. Oxford University Press. Oxford, U.K. pp. 115-126.
  • Singer S, Bernays EA. 2009. Specialized generalists: behavioral and evolutionary ecology of polyphagous woolly bear caterpillars. In Connor, WE, (ed.) Tiger Moths and Woolly Bears: Behavior, Ecology, and Evolution of the Arctiidae. Oxford University Press. Oxford, U.K. pp. 103-114.
  • Wagner DL. 2005. Caterpillars of Eastern North America. Princeton University Press. Princeton, New Jersey. 512 pp.
  • Wagner, DL. 2009. The immature stages: structure, function, behavior, and ecology. In Connor, WE, (ed.) Tiger Moths and Woolly Bears: Behavior, Ecology, and Evolution of the Arctiidae. Oxford University Press. Oxford, U.K. pp. 31-53.

Author: Donald W. Hall, Entomology and Nematology Department, University of Florida
Photographs: Donald W. Hall and Lyle J. Buss, Entomology and Nematology Department, University of Florida
Web Design: Don Wasik, Jane Medley
Publication Number: EENY-599
Publication Date: August 2014. Reviewed: February 2021.

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Featured Creatures Editor and Coordinator: Dr. Elena Rhodes, University of Florida


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