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The Scarlet Tiger Moth

scarlet tiger moth with wings folded

from Wikimedia

The Scarlet Tiger Moth is an unusual and striking moth found from Turkey to England - at least, sometimes. It likes damp meadows and rocky seaside cliffs and is only visible a couple months of the year, making one a notable find even though they are so widespread. The bright flash of the hindwings (usually hidden) is a surprise that startles predators and curious onlookers alike. 

Scarlet tiger moth with wings spread

from butterflyconservation.org

With its scarlet hindwings, yellow spots, and shimmery green-black forewings and body, this little guy looks like he belongs in a rainforest and not in rainy old England or the high hills of Romania. Despite being a moth (and more on that in a minute) they're not only brightly colored but active during the daytime. Unlike most moths they have slim antennae and aren't especially hairy. What makes this a moth then, if it's brightly colored with thin antennae and out during the day?

Turns out there's not much different between moths and butterflies. One of the least noticeable (but coolest) differences is that moths have tiny hooks or fibers on the edge of the hind wing that attaches to the forewing - not something easy to see, but it allows the wings to hook together during flight and function as one unit. 

Butterflies  Moths
Often brightly colored Often more subdued
Usually thin antennae with 'club' ends Often thick, feathery antennae trailing to a point
Often holds wings erect

Often holds wings out or tented over body

Forewing and hindwing separate but overlapping

Hindwing often hooks to forewing with frenulum

Usually active during the day

Usually active at night

Often make hard chrysalis

Mostly make silk-covered cocoon

 

Looking at these characteristics, it's hard to see just where the tiger moths fit in, and in fact they've been bounced back and forth around the taxonomic tree a couple times. Genetics don't lie though, and they place tiger moths, lichen moths, and footmen in the subfamily Arctiinae. They're a large and diverse group of moths that can be found anywhere but Antarctica. You might be familiar with a close cousin of the scarlet tiger -  the Isabella tiger moth. Here's a baby picture: 

wooly bear caterpillar on grass

from BugGuide.net

Yes, the wooly bears that are supposed to predict how bad the winter is are tiger moths, too. The amount of black vs. brown on them is said to indicate how severe the winter will be - but it's hard to find two wooly bears that agree on their predictions. Compounding the problem, several species have caterpillars that are known as 'wooly bears' or 'wooly worms' - and no one agrees on which caterpillars make the best meteorologists. 

Though the bright colors of the Scarlet Tiger are what first attracted me to the idea of stitching them, I don't think I'll stop with just one. The diverse colors and striking markings in this family of moths rivals any butterfly. The real problem will be how to choose the next one!

arctia tiger moths of europe color plate

from Moths of Europe


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