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Arctiinae (erebid moths)

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Title: Arctiinae (erebid moths)  
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Language: English
Subject: Afrojavanica, Palearctia, Podomachla, Neuroxena, Afrowatsonius
Collection: Aposematic Animals, Arctiinae, Insect Families, Insect Subfamilies, Moths of Canada, Noctuoidea, Warning Coloration
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Arctiinae (erebid moths)

Harnessed tiger moth
Apantesis phalerata
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Arthropoda
Class: Insecta
Order: Lepidoptera
Superfamily: Noctuoidea
Family: Erebidae
Subfamily: Arctiinae
(Leach, 1815)
Type species
Arctia caja
(Linnaeus, 1758)
1,400–1,500 genera
Approximately 11,000 species

The Arctiinae (formerly called the Arctiidae) is 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 refers to this (Gk. αρκτος = a bear). Caterpillars may also go by the name "tussock moths" (more usually this refers to Lymantriidae, however).


  • Taxonomy 1
  • Tribes (former subfamilies) 2
  • Description 3
  • Aposematism 4
  • Behavior and life cycle 5
  • Folklore 6
  • Notable species 7
  • See also 8
  • Notes and references 9
    • Other references 9.1
    • Main species catalogs 9.2
    • Phylogenetic analyses 9.3
    • Distribution analyses 9.4
  • Further reading 10
  • External links 11


The subfamily was previously classified as the Arctiidae family of the Noctuoidea superfamily 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 Erebidae family.[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 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)

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 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]


Many species retain distasteful or poisonous chemicals acquired from their host plants.[8] Some species also have the ability to make their own defenses (Nishida, 2002). 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 on 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, due to histamines the caterpillar makes, in some species but not all.

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.[9] The ultrasound signals help nocturnal predators to learn to avoid the moths,[10][11] and for some species can jam bat echolocation.

Behavior and life cycle

Banded woolly bear, Pyrrharctia isabella

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 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.[12] 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.

Many species are polyphagous in larva stage. Monophagous species, like 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.


Caterpillar on Asteraceae plant

Local folklore of the American Northeast and the American South hold that "woolly bears" (or "wooly worms" in the South) have the ability to predict the weather, similar to that of 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, but more black than brown is supposed to mean a harsh winter.[13] However, the relative width of the black band varies among instars, not according to weather.[14] The mythical qualities attributed to woolly bears in America have led to such things as the Woollybear Festival in Ohio, the Wooly Worm Festival in Beattyville, Kentucky and the Wooly Worm Festival in Banner Elk, North Carolina.

Notable species

See also

Notes and references

  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.  
  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.  
  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
  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
  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). Biol J Linn Soc 68:557–578.
  9. ^ 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 Roy Soc Lond B 269: 983–990.
  10. ^ Dunning DC, Roeder KD (1965). Moth sounds and the insect-catching behavior of bats. Science 147:173–174.
  11. ^ Hristov NI, Conner WE (2005). Sound strategy: acoustic aposematism in the bat–tiger moth arms race. Naturwissenschaften 92:164–169. doi:10.1007/s00114-005-0611-7
  12. ^ Layne JR, Kuharsky DK (2000) Triggering of cryoprotectant synthesis in the woolly bear caterpillar (Pyrrharctia isabella Lepidoptera : Arctiidae). J Exper Zool 286 (4): 367–371
  13. ^
  14. ^ Wagner, DL. (2005). Caterpillars of Eastern North America. Princeton University Press.

Other references

  • Bates DL, Fenton MB. (1990). Aposematism or startle? Predators learn their responses to the defenses of prey. Can J Zool 68:49–52.
  • Dunning DC, Krüger M. (1995). Aposematic sounds in African moths. Biotropica 27:227–231.
  • Dunning DC, Acharya L, Merriman CB, Ferro LD. (1992). Interactions between bats and arctiid moths. Can J Zool 70:2218–2223.
  • Fullard JH, Fenton MB, Simmons JA .(1979). Jamming bat echolocation: the clicks of arctiid moths. Can J Zool 57:647–649.
  • Science Fridays: Moths Can Escape Bats By Jamming Sonar

Main species catalogs

  • 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.
  • 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 50:1–361.
  • Watson A, Goodger DT. (1986). Catalogue of the Neotropical Tiger-moths. Occasional Papers on Systematic Entomology 1:1–71.

Phylogenetic analyses

  • Da Costa MA, Weller SJ (2005) Phylogeny and classification of Callimorphini (Lepidoptera: Arctiidae: Arctiinae). Zootaxa 1025:1–94
  • 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
  • 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

  • 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.

Further reading

  • William Conner (ed.). (2009). Tiger moths and woolly bears : behavior, ecology, and evolution of the Arctiidae. Oxford University Press: New York. ISBN 978-0-19-532737-3

External links

  • Family Arctiidae at
  • Belize Arctiidae Digital colour "plates"
  • Jamaica Actiidae Digital colour "plates"
  • Digital images of Neotropical Arctiidae and Geometridae
  • SZM Digital images
  • Butterflies and Moths of North America - Apantesis nais - Tiger Moth
  • on the UF / IFAS Featured Creatures Web site
    • , spotted oleander caterpillarEmpyreuma affinis
    • , saltmarsh caterpillarEstigmene acrea
    • , black and yellow lichen mothLycomorpha pholus
    • , Edwards wasp mothLymire edwardsii
    • , bella mothUtetheisa ornatrix
  • Beattyville Woolly Worm Festival 2012 Site
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