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Apantesis phalerata.jpg
Harnessed tiger moth
Apantesis phalerata
Scientific classification Red Pencil Icon.png
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 group 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 of this subfamily refers to this hairiness (Gk. αρκτος = a bear). Some species within the Arctiinae have the word tussock in their common name due to people misidentifying them as members of the Lymantriinae 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 due to the classification of the former Arctiidae as the current Arctiinae.
Taxon rankFormer classificationCurrent classification
Superfamily Noctuoidea Noctuoidea
FamilyArctiidae Erebidae
SubfamilyArctiinae, Lithosiinae, Syntominae Arctiinae
Tribe Arctiini, Ctenuchini, Eudesmiini, Lithosiini, etc. Arctiini, Lithosiini, Syntomini
Subtribe Arctiina, Ctenuchina, Eudesmiina, Lithosiina, etc.
GenusMany generaNames and rank not changed
SpeciesMany speciesNames 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)

Many genera are classified into the following 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 which are vibrated to produce ultrasonic sounds. They also have thoracic tympanal organs for hearing, a trait which has 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 Woolly-Bear-Caterpillar.jpg
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 caterpillar makes.

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

Copulation in tiger moth Copulation in tiger moth.jpg
Copulation in tiger moth

Many of the caterpillars and adults are active during the daytime; however, most species of this taxa are night-flying. Moths are attracted by light, but there is one species, Borearctia menetriesii, that 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 will 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 larval stage.

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

Many species are polyphagous in larva stage. Monophagous species, like 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 Tiger moth laying eggs.jpg
Tiger moth laying eggs


Caterpillar on Asteraceae plant Arctiidae caterpillar edit.jpg
Caterpillar on Asteraceae plant

Local folklore of the American Northeast and the American 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

See also

Notes and references

  1. 1 2 3 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. PMID   7964403.
  7. Holloway JD. (1988). The Moths of Borneo6: Family Arctiidae.
  8. 1 2 3 Weller, SJ; Jacobsen, NL; Conner, WE (1999). "The evolution of chemical defenses and mating systems in tiger moths (Lepidoptera: Arctiidae)". Biol J Linn Soc. 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. Wagner, DL. (2005). Caterpillars of Eastern North America. Princeton University Press.

Other references

Main species catalogs

Phylogenetic analyses

Distribution analyses

Further reading

Related Research Articles

Noctuidae Type of moths commonly known as owlet moths, cutworms or armyworms

The Noctuidae, commonly known as owlet moths, cutworms or armyworms, are the most controversial family in the superfamily Noctuoidea because many of the clades are constantly changing, along with the other families of the Noctuoidea. It was considered the largest family in Lepidoptera for a long time, but after regrouping Lymantriinae, Catocalinae and Calpinae within the family Erebidae, the latter holds this title now. Currently, Noctuidae is the second largest family in Noctuoidea, with about 1,089 genera and 11,772 species. However, this classification is still contingent, as more changes continue to appear between Noctuidae and Erebidae.

Woolly bear may refer to:

<i>Pyrrharctia isabella</i> Species of insect

Pyrrharctia isabella, the isabella tiger moth, whose larval form is called the banded woolly bear, woolly bear, or woolly worm, occurs in the United States and southern Canada. It was first formally named by James Edward Smith in 1797.

Arctiini Tribe of moths

The Arctiini are a tribe of tiger moths in the family Erebidae.

<i>Spilosoma virginica</i> Species of moth

Spilosoma virginica is a species of moth in the subfamily Arctiinae. As a caterpillar, it is known as the yellow woolly bear or yellow bear caterpillar. As an adult, it is known as the Virginian tiger moth.

Phaegopterina Subtribe of moths

The Phaegopterina are a subtribe of tiger moths in the tribe Arctiini, which is part of the family Erebidae. The subtribe was described by William Forsell Kirby in 1892. 469 species of Phaegopterina are present and 52 that are recently discovered in Brazil.

Callimorphina Subtribe of moths

The Callimorphina are a subtribe of woolly bear moths in the family Erebidae. The subtribe was described by Francis Walker in 1865. Many of these moths are easily confused with butterflies, being quite brightly colored and somewhat diurnal. Their antennae are not thickened into "clubs", which is a typical characteristic of butterflies.

Arctiina Subtribe of moths

The Arctiina are a subtribe of moths in the family Erebidae.

Aganainae Subfamily of moths

The Aganainae are a small subfamily of moths in the family Erebidae. The adults and caterpillars of this subfamily are typically large and brightly colored, like the related tiger moths. Many of the caterpillars feed on poisonous host plants and acquire toxic cardenolides that make them unpleasant to predators. Like the closely related litter moths, the adults have long, upturned labial palps, and the caterpillars have fully or mostly developed prolegs on the abdomen. The Aganainae are distributed across the tropics and subtropics of the Old World.

<i>Palearctia</i> Genus of moths

Palearctia is a genus of tiger moths in the family Erebidae.

<i>Lyclene</i> Genus of moths

Lyclene is a genus of lichen moths of the family Erebidae, subfamily Arctiinae. The genus was erected by Frederic Moore in 1860.

Oroncus is a genus of tiger moths in the family Erebidae.

Zobida is a genus of moths in the subfamily Arctiinae.

Erebidae Family of moths

The Erebidae are a family of moths in the superfamily Noctuoidea. The family is among the largest families of moths by species count and contains a wide variety of well-known macromoth groups. The family includes the underwings (Catocala); litter moths (Herminiinae); tiger, lichen, and wasp moths (Arctiinae); tussock moths (Lymantriinae), including the arctic woolly bear moth ; piercing moths ; micronoctuoid moths (Micronoctuini); snout moths (Hypeninae); and zales, though many of these common names can also refer to moths outside the Erebidae. Some of the erebid moths are called owlets.

The Woolly Worm Festival is an event held each October since 1978 in Banner Elk and Avery County, North Carolina. The festival celebrates the supposed weather-predicting abilities of the woolly worm, also called "woolly bear" which is a caterpillar or larvae of the isabella tiger moth. Events include a caterpillar race.

The Micronoctuini are a tribe of moths in the family Erebidae that includes about 400 described species. Typical species in the tribe have bifine hindwing venation and are smaller than those in other noctuoid moths. Micronoctua karsholti is the smallest of all species in the superfamily Noctuoidea.

Micrarctiina Subtribe of moths

The Micrarctiina are a subtribe of woolly bear moths in the family Erebidae. Many of these moths are of small or medium size and have bright-colored hindwings.

Nyctemerina Subtribe of moths

The Nyctemerina are a subtribe of woolly bear moths in the family Erebidae.

<i>Juxtarctia multiguttata</i> Species of moth

Juxtarctia multiguttata is a polymorphic tiger-moth in the subfamily Arctiinae, endemic for Himalayas. It is known from India: north-west Himalayas, Sikkim, Assam; Nepal; Bhutan; Myanmar; China: Tibet within western slopes of the Himalayas; Indochina.

Euchaetina Tribe of moths

The Euchaetina were a subtribe of woolly bear moths in the family Erebidae. The moths are found in North and Central America. The subtribe was reclassified as part of the subtribe Phaegopterina.