In the case of the Garden Tiger Moth, beauty really is only skin deep. The colorful pattern is actually a warning sign to predators that the moth is poisonous.
📍The poison is acquired during the larval stage of the lifecycle.
As in the famous book “The Hungry Caterpillar,” 🐛 this is the main feeding stage.
📍Although the larvae have a generalist diet, they acquire poison from eating plants containing toxins known as Pyrrolizidine alkaloids.
📍The larvae convert these plant-derived toxins into insect-specific toxins such as callimorphine.
As illustrated, the lifecycle of the Garden Tiger Moth:
🟠 Eggs hatch in late summer, as the previous generation of adults dies.
🟠 The insects survive winter as small larvae; in spring they begin eating and grow into a large caterpillars known as “Woolly Bears” due to the hairs on their back.
🟠 By June the caterpillars explore low vegetation and spin a cocoon there from their hairs and silk.
🟠 In summer, with the metamorphosis complete, the adult moth emerges.
Thank you to 🇩🇰 Brian Dall Schyth, a high school teacher and freelance Illustrator; owner of ExplainWays. This illustration was made for the Museum of Natural History in Aarhus as part of the 99 species project.