Tiger Moths

Wood tiger moth by K BalmerWood tiger moth by K Balmer

Can you spot a tiger in your garden or local wildlife area?

Three counties tiger moth survey - Can you help?

Change is afoot with our tiger moths. Your sightings can help towards better understanding of what is happening with the seven different species - and support conservation efforts in Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire and Northamptonshire.

With identification tips and links to your own local environmental records centre, you'll be able to submit your sightings. Verified records will be shared with the county recording groups and incorporated into local and national databases. From the information below, you'll see that the adult moths (and even some of the caterpillars) tend to be rather colourful and quite distinctive.

If you know what to look for, and keep a lookout between spring and autumn you stand a good chance of spotting more than one species - all of which will add to our knowledge. You'll need to be able to identify them correctly - so we've compiled some information to help you.

What have you found?

If you think you've found one of our tigers (congratulations!), try to take pictures (several from different angles always helps) to help confirm its identity. Check its characteristics against the images and information provided or linked to via the descriptions below. Then follow the link to the Local Environmental Records Centre for your county (or vice-county):

Bedfordshire: BRMC - online survey ready for submissions.

Cambridgeshire (& Huntingdonshire): CPERC - new online recording site to enter your tiger moth and other records.

Northamptonshire: NBRC - online tiger moths survey now live.

Table 1 - When to find moths (upper bars) and caterpillars (lower bars) of each species


Our Survey Species (Click on the species names and photos to follow the links for more information and images)

1. Ruby Tiger
With reddish brown forewings and hindwings of rose-pink with grey towards the front, it is the Ruby Tiger’s bright carmine and black dotted underwings, body and forelegs that most catch the eye. Some early emerging caterpillars feed up quickly and are on the wing as adults in autumn. Most hibernate over winter, however, completing their larval life-stages during the following spring. So there are two periods when you may encounter Ruby Tiger moths. Occurring in many habitats, it is widespread and can be locally common. The moth will fly by day. Although it is more likely to be seen than the others here, because it is not as striking, it is perhaps less likely to be recognised and reported by the casual observer.

Ruby tiger moth (side view) - MGB

Ruby Tiger (MG Banthorpe).

2. Wood Tiger
This is a very variable species but usually has a black forewing with broad cream-yellow streaks and pale orange-cream hindwing with darker streaks and blotches. The male will fly in sunshine, the females on hot, sunny days or after dark. Formerly widespread, a species of heathland, acid grassland and woodland, it has become very local in its distribution and is infrequently recorded here. There are only 11 records for Bedfordshire, where it hasn’t been seen since 1982; while the last Huntingdonshire record dates back to 1926! However, it is known to occur in Buckinghamshire.

Wood Tiger (K Balmer).

3. Garden Tiger
The forewing is chocolate brown with bold spots and streaks of a pale ochre. The hindwing is orange-red with c. six large, yellow-edged, blue-black spots. The abdomen is red-brown. The Garden Tiger is a night flier, not usually observed away from a light. In late June, the black-headed, extremely hairy, brown ‘woolly bear’ caterpillars can occasionally be found wandering across roads and footpaths, although rather less frequently than used to be the case. In inland areas it prefers damp, grassy habitat. Although still widespread, numbers of our largest tiger moth, now a Biodiversity Action Plan (BAP) Priority species, are just a tenth of what they were in the early 1980s, with just a handful of records across the Trust’s entire area each year.

Garden Tiger - A once common but now increasingly rare sight (MG Banthorpe).

4. Cream-spot Tiger
The forewing is black with large cream splotches arranged in two lines following inside the front and rear of the wing. This contrasts with the light orange hindwing, which has dark markings, irregular spots towards the centre and large blotch across the outer corner. Females also fly by day.

Occupying wooded and grassy open, areas, the Cream-spot Tiger has a southerly distribution in the UK. It has rarely been reported from West Anglia, and not at all since the early 1970s (or even earlier) from the four vice-county areas (including Huntingdonshire).

Cream-spot Tiger -showing orange hindwing (AM Banthorpe).

5. Jersey Tiger
This is perhaps the most striking of our Tigers, having a black forewing with cream wedges running back from the leading edge and as a border to the rear margin. The hindwing can be orange-red or yellow, with several black spots. The moth flies by day and night. The caterpillar hibernates soon after hatching, with most of its growth occurring after hibernation.

Once very rarely seen, and then restricted to the south coast, the Jersey Tiger is now on the move! Although natural range expansion has probably been boosted by deliberate introductions, its spread is likely to have been prompted by climate change. Established in the Greater Bedford area it has yet to be spotted in the other vice-counties.


Jersey Tiger (J-P Grandmont)

6. Scarlet Tiger
The head is black with yellow markings, the abdomen scarlet with a black dorsal stripe. The black forewings have a greenish sheen with white and orange-yellow markings. These contrast with the black-blotched, scarlet hindwings. This is another variable species with three definite colour/pattern types or ‘morphs’). Unlike other tigers it has well-developed mouthparts and takes nectar as an adult. It flies freely in sunny conditions.

Well established in Bedfordshire and spreading in Northants but limited to a single locality in recent times in Huntingdonshire, this species is found in fens and damp, grassy places. The caterpillars utilise a wide range of food plants (especially Comfrey).

Scarlet tiger moth - adult above (M Gouck), caterpillar below (MG Banthorpe).


7. Cinnabar
Forewing is a brownish-grey decorated with two blotches and a streak of scarlet inside the leading edge the front, the hindwing is scarlet with grey at the margins. The later instar caterpillars are rather more striking than the moths they become, their stripy yellow-orange and black rugby-shirt colouration familiar from many a ragwort or groundsel plant. The plant’s toxins are accumulated by the larvae and passed on to the adult moths, which are nocturnal but are regularly disturbed from long grass by day. The similarly-coloured, day-flying burnet moths have multi-spotted wings with no stripes.

The Cinnabar moth is still widespread and common wherever its principal food plant grows but there are gaps in the database even for this very obvious species and it too has undergone rapid decline. Control of ragwort (eg at Pitsford Reservoir) appears to limit the numbers of this species.

Cinnabar -  moth above (MG Banthorpe), caterpillar below (AM Banthorpe).

More information about these species will help to conserve them for the future.


Getting involved

Your records will help unravel what is happening to these different species and help to provide information about what food-plants their caterpillars most frequently use in the West Anglian area. Please visit WTBCN’s Monitoring + Research pages to follow progress on this and other surveys.