Tiger moths and woolly bears

Garden tigers (Arctia caja) are large moths with a 50-78 mm wingspan, found in North America, Europe and Asia. Feeding on a host of different plants, including dandelions, nettles and docks, their caterpillars are often referred to as "woolly bears", due to their impressive fluffy hairs. In the UK, adults fly in July and August, and  the next generation of caterpillars overwinters before emerging the following spring. Although generally active at night, adult garden tigers can often be found resting in exposed locations during the day. Their cream and brown forewings may function as disruptive camouflage but also conceal spectacular orange hindwings with blue eyespots, warning predators of their chemical defences.

Once very common, garden tigers are declining rapidly in many areas of the UK. Recent research suggests that this could be linked to weather conditions, with caterpillars suffering from the recent mild winters and damp springs.

 

With their striking wing patterns and endearing furry caterpillars, garden tigers were the perfect choice to star in a children's book on visual defences in moths and butterflies, and highlight the importance of their conservation.

 

Colourful relatives

Several other warningly-coloured members of the Erebidae family can be found in the UK: from left to right, the scarlet tiger (Callimorpha dominula, with its caterpillar), Jersey tiger (Euplagia quadripunctaria), cream-spot tiger (Arctia villica), and ruby tiger (Phragmatobia fuliginosa).  

Not to be confused with black and red burnet moths (Zygaena species), the cinnabar moth (Tyria jacobaeae), with its unmistakeable stripy caterpillars, is another close relative in the same family as the garden tiger.

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