Garden Tiger and Magpie Moths were once common

What is happening to British moths?

When I was a boy, and indeed later in life, I used to enjoy finding caterpillars and discovering what species of moth or butterfly they would eventually produce. I remember as a child and as a teenager, the common types that I could come upon in the garden or on my father or grandad's allotments. I used to find caterpillars on the railway bank too.

Garden Tiger and Magpie Moth

Garden Tiger Moth. Photo by Marek Szczepanek
Garden Tiger Moth. Photo by Marek Szczepanek
Magpie Moth (Abraxas grossulariata)
Magpie Moth (Abraxas grossulariata)

Magpie Moth

Garden Tiger Moth

One species I have always loved is the Garden Tiger Moth (Arctia caja) with its large, very furry caterpillars that are known as woolly bears. The adult moths are spectacular too with boldly patterned forewings of chocolate brown and white and with hindwings of a bright orange dotted with blue black. It is one of the largest and most colourful of all British moths.

I remember finding the caterpillars on my dad's rhubarb and often you could see the holes they had eaten in the leaves. Other times you might see one running across a path or in the lanein the summer sunshine.

They were easy to feed if kept because they eat a very wide range of plants. Nettles, weeds like Dandelions and Dock, Brambles and cultivated vegetables such as Cabbage.

In Ely, where I lived until several years back, the moth and its caterpillars were again commonly found in my garden and in the neighbourhood.

Recently though, I have read many reports that say that this beautiful moth has gone into a rapid decline in the UK and is vanishing from many places.Wikipedia says: "Its numbers in the UK have declined by 89% over the past 30 years."

How could this be? It eats a wide range of food `plants and the caterpillars are protected from predators by their long fur whilst the adults are poisonous and put of enemies with their bright warning colours.

Something else is killing them off. Maybe it is the widespread use of pesticides and the practice of tidy gardening with everything pruned just-so and neatly manicured lawns? But perhaps it has to do with climate change? The Garden Tiger is a species that has a caterpillar that hibernates in winter and a mild one would not cause the young insect to stay dormant so well.

It is not just the Garden Tiger. Many other once very common species are disappearing. The Magpie Moth (Abraxas grossulariata) is another example. Something is killing off the once large numbers of this pretty moth too.

This pretty moth is colourful in all stages of its lifecycle. As a caterpillar, which is of the "looper" or "inchworm" variety, it is mostly black and white and pinkish-red underneath, the pupa is black banded with dark yellow and the adult moth has creamy white wings speckled with black dots and marked with yellow-orange bands. The body of the moth is black and orange.

Like with the Garden Tiger Moth, these are warning colours to tell would-be predators that the insect is poisonous. Like the Garden Tiger Moth the Magpie Moth caterpillar hibernates while still small and completes its growth in spring.

I used to find loads of them on a Flowering Currant (Ribes sanguineum) bush in my grandparents garden but they also eat other types of currant and Gooseberry (Ribes uva-crispa) bushes too. In the countryside they are, or were, common in hedges where they ate Blackthorn (Prunus spinosa) and Spindle (Euonymous europaeus).

In the countryside it can also live on moorland and hillsides feeding on the Heather (Calluna vulgaris).

These catepillars can spin a thread that they can hang from and can climb back up if they are dislodged from where they were hiding in the leaves. They also move along by using the front legs to pull the rest of the body in a loop up to the front rather than crawling like most other types of caterpillar.

It seems very sad and strange to hear that these colourful and once common moths are having a struggle to survive in the UK as it is now.

Some species are being maintained in captivity by insect enthusiasts and the businesses that breed and sell eggs, caterpillars and pupae. It seems a great shame that it has come to this; that instead of being able to go out into your garden to find moths and their caterpillars, now you have to order them online from a company that will sell you them.

Copyright © 2010 Steve Andrews. All Rights Reserved.

Garden Tiger Moth warming up for flight

More by this Author


Comments 40 comments

maggs224 profile image

maggs224 6 years ago from Sunny Spain

It is such a shame that these insects are on the decline, it is the same with the butterflies many that were commonly seen in our gardens are no longer seen out side of books and nature programs.


Bard of Ely profile image

Bard of Ely 6 years ago from Lisbon, Portugal Author

Yes, I noticed the butterflies were going too while I was still in the UK. The Wall Brown, Small Copper, Small Heath, and Grayling used to be common but I hadn't seen any for years.

I know that the use of Roundup is cutting down on butterflies like the Small Tortoiseshell and Peacock because I have seen it used to kill Nettles that their caterpillars need.


ethel smith profile image

ethel smith 6 years ago from Kingston-Upon-Hull

I think a lot is down to England's love the car and this need to block pave gardens to accommodate them. I still get a fair few moths and butterflies in my garden but not as many as in the past.

I just noticed you are from Ely originally. I am researching my family tree just now and have found that my family originally came from March.


Bard of Ely profile image

Bard of Ely 6 years ago from Lisbon, Portugal Author

I expect that has a lot to do with it too - more ground concreted over!

It is Ely in Cardiff not in Cambridge! I came from Llandaff in Cardiff originally but lived in Ely for 25 years.


frogyfish profile image

frogyfish 6 years ago from Central United States of America

Interesting hub info, yet sad, and yes, widespread that many 'insects' are gradually disappearing.

The monarch butterflies have just come through here locally on their journey to Mexico, and there were not 'many' this year. I believe our insecticides and even herbicides are killing them.

And do I hear a soothing accent when you speak, or is it surely my imagination, sir Bard of Ely.


Jerilee Wei profile image

Jerilee Wei 6 years ago from United States

Love the Tiger moths and the fact that you bring awareness of their decline with this hub!


Bard of Ely profile image

Bard of Ely 6 years ago from Lisbon, Portugal Author

Thank you, Frogyfish and Jerilee!


AdamCairn profile image

AdamCairn 6 years ago from UK

I only realised this year that many moths are white. I thought they were all brown and grey.


Am I dead, yet? 6 years ago

Bard, I want to commend you for your steady work in awareness in life, nature and humanities. Another brilliant hub on a beautiful, now endangered species.


Bard of Ely profile image

Bard of Ely 6 years ago from Lisbon, Portugal Author

Thank you!


goldstone 6 years ago

Another good job,and very interesting.There are many

species disapearing around the world.If scientists don't

find out what's killing the bee's in America,in a few years

we're going to have a big problem growing food that has to

be pollenated............Goldstone


magdielqr profile image

magdielqr 6 years ago

Thank you for this informative Hub.


RYoder profile image

RYoder 6 years ago from Dover, Delaware

You know I have actually noticed that lightning bugs in my area are no where to be seen anymore.I am 26 years old and I can remember being on my Grand dads farm when I was a little boy and seeing fields of them. But that same field today has probably one tenth of what I remember. Granted we need to have food that is not contaminated by bugs, but what would you rather have, bugs or pesticides? I would chose insects any day. Its a shame the way people manufacture insects deaths just look at the bees. Its a shame, good blog keep on blogging.


Bard of Ely profile image

Bard of Ely 6 years ago from Lisbon, Portugal Author

Thank you for posting, Ryoder!


Philent profile image

Philent 6 years ago

Lovely moths! The only one I can see outside the house is a pale brown moth. This climate change has really a huge negative impact on a lot of things; we can clearly see it around.


Bard of Ely profile image

Bard of Ely 6 years ago from Lisbon, Portugal Author

Thank you for posting, Philent!


neysajasper profile image

neysajasper 6 years ago

Nice hub dude! Though i am afraid of these moths but enjoyed your hub a lot while reading. Good keep writing!!!


Bard of Ely profile image

Bard of Ely 6 years ago from Lisbon, Portugal Author

Thank you, Neysajasper!


fastfreta profile image

fastfreta 6 years ago from Southern California

Here in the U.S. our insects such as moths, butterflies, crickets, etc are also on the decline. Like you said, probably due in large part to the increase in the use of pesticides. Very good hub.


Bard of Ely profile image

Bard of Ely 6 years ago from Lisbon, Portugal Author

Thank you too, Fastfreta!


marko 6 years ago

I,live in slovenia in europ.Slowenia is near Italy.I love this caterpillars too.I put them in boxes,giving the food and care for them.This year i have a garden tiger moth butterfly.In this time that I took to you it is leying eggs.At my home the species is not in danger.I see the caterpillars many times and I too love them.


Bard of Ely profile image

Bard of Ely 6 years ago from Lisbon, Portugal Author

I am glad to hear it! Thank you for posting, Marko!


Zamorak profile image

Zamorak 6 years ago from Bingley, United Kingdom

Great hub, its such a shame that wildlife in British gardens is declining at such a rate.. =/


Bard of Ely profile image

Bard of Ely 6 years ago from Lisbon, Portugal Author

Thank you for posting - I agree!


MickS profile image

MickS 6 years ago from March, Cambridgeshire, England

Watcha Steve,

excellent little write up. Do the caterpillars feed on ragwort, I know some poisonous moths get their toxins in the adult stage from ragwort. The authorities are becoming concerned about the decline in moths because there has been mass destruction of the weed which only really needs controlling within 50 yards of pasture land.

Funny, I've just moved from Harlow in Essex, we had a pub, The Garden Tiger, I've now moved very close to Ely, but the Cambridgeshire Ely, not the Welsh one:-)

best

Mick


Bard of Ely profile image

Bard of Ely 6 years ago from Lisbon, Portugal Author

Thanks for posting, Mick! No, Garden Tigers don't eat ragwort but the pretty red and black Cinnabar Moth with orange and black striped caterpillars does. It is in the same family as the Tiger Moths. The ragwort plant also supports over 30 other species according to a site called Buglife I came upon. As I understand it it has been made illegal as an invasive weed with a propaganda campaign saying it poisons horses so must be eradicated. This led to the increased use of Monsanto's poisonous Roundup. I found this out back in 2003 when I was still in the UK and was dismayed to see it being sprayed along railway tracks and elsewhere. Please see this site for more info:

http://www.buglife.org.uk/conservation/currentproj...


kgnature profile image

kgnature 6 years ago from North Carolina

Great info - thanks! I'm going to link to this from my caterpillar hub.


Bard of Ely profile image

Bard of Ely 6 years ago from Lisbon, Portugal Author

Thank you,kgnature!


intergeri 6 years ago

Found this while trying to work out what species of moth just flew into my house. Great article, you don't know anything about spiders do you? I contacted BBC recently to try to identify some spiders which have been living in my garden for yrs. They didn't reply.


Bard of Ely profile image

Bard of Ely 6 years ago from Lisbon, Portugal Author

Yes, I am pretty good with spiders too. Have you any photos?


sapphira 6 years ago

i have this tier moth


Bard of Ely profile image

Bard of Ely 6 years ago from Lisbon, Portugal Author

I am glad to hear it!


delmar11alford profile image

delmar11alford 6 years ago

wow very cool hub. I wish i've seen one of these in real life. Seeing organism like this really shows God exist. it's hard to believe that something so beautiful has evolved from evolution.


Bard of Ely profile image

Bard of Ely 6 years ago from Lisbon, Portugal Author

Thanks for your comment, Delmar! I agree with you and I don't accept the theory of evolution! I see all life as creations and proof of God!


tjd 5 years ago

i don't know if u will get this message but i recently found 1 of these wondering down the path, so i scooped it up and saved it before it got stood on, i put it in a container with holes and put in some nettles and dandilions, it had now started to remove its hair and make a cocoon, it looks like the same catapillar but didn't realise it made a cocoon from its own hair? this is now the 4th caterpillar ive found, kept and fed, then released once it had hatched


Bard of Ely profile image

Bard of Ely 5 years ago from Lisbon, Portugal Author

Yes, they do that but this is the wrong time of year - far too early! I am surprised it was out of hibernation and fully grown! Where was this?


maria 5 years ago

Just took photo of a large brown and white tiger moth in Lowick, Berwick on Tweed, Northumberland, fantastic!


Bard of Ely profile image

Bard of Ely 5 years ago from Lisbon, Portugal Author

Excellent! I am very pleased to hear it!


Frank Buckland 5 years ago

I have lived in yhe country all my life but have never seen a Garden Tiger Moth Altho iHave flown a Tiger Moth many times!! The other day I found a very sad moth in my garden and was delighted to identify a Garden Tiger.

Petersfild Hants


Bard of Ely profile image

Bard of Ely 5 years ago from Lisbon, Portugal Author

Thanks for posting, Frank!

    Sign in or sign up and post using a HubPages Network account.

    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    No HTML is allowed in comments, but URLs will be hyperlinked. Comments are not for promoting your articles or other sites.


    Click to Rate This Article
    working