Wild Profile: Meet the virgin tiger moth

Published: August 20, 2019

By Barbi Hofer/Shutterstock

They’re grrreat! Virgin tiger moths are flashy, and fortified with a variety of defences to ward off their cottage-country predators.

Like many other tiger moths, these striking specimens hide black-and-orange hind wings behind a set of plainer forewings. During the day, they unveil their loud colours to scare off any hungry birds. Virgin tiger moths store bitter compounds in their abdomens, and leak a nasty, foamy liquid from glands on the thorax. So, delicious? No.

To keep the bats at bay at night, meanwhile, the moths have another weapon in their arsenal. They can “hear” a food-seeking bat’s echolocation signals, and respond by sending out their own high-frequency clicks, thanks to special tymbal organs. This tells the bats: “Stay away. I taste gross.” Tiger moths are one example of a species with “multimodal” defence signals, a.k.a. signals that use different senses and evolved in response to different predators.

Featured Video