by Leslie Cox; Thursday; June 8, 2017

white moth - wing markingIdentifying moths can be tricky. Mainly because they look so very different from their caterpillar larval stage. Add in colour variations in their wings differing from region to region to region…plus the lack of information both in book form and on the Internet…and well, it is a tough job putting the correct name on your specimen.

Yet…this can be a very important piece of data for the very health of your garden. Mainly because these adult moth forms will give you a clue whether your garden could be facing a pest infestation as soon as the eggs hatch.

For this very reason, I persevere as best I can. But I do not limit myself to just moth identification. I try to put a name to the face of every insect I encounter in my garden in order to learn about the good, and bad, guys. (Beats watching the crummy programming on TV these days!)

white moth - underside


My latest project is trying to identify a white moth John found reposing on a low growing hardy geranium, Geranium orientalitibeticum…commonly called Tibetan cranesbill.

At first sighting, it was upside down…just peeking at us with one eye from behind a geranium leaf.


white moth


John attempted to flip the leaf over, with difficulty, but the moth cooperated by crawling up from underneath so we could see the back of its wings. It had a fair amount of fuzzy hair on its head and long white antennae marked with black.



The following photos are different viewpoints of the same moth.

white moth - front view

white moth - side view








So what is the proper name of this white moth?

After much research through as many sources as I could muster…I am leaning towards Spilosoma virginica, or Virginia tiger moth…with 90% confidence. The larval stage caterpillar is called yellow woolly bear…the pale yellow character covered all over in fuzzy hairs we sometimes see in our gardens.

My 10% uncertainty comes from how much this white moth found in our garden looks remarkably like the photos I have seen of the adult stage of the fall webworm, known as Hyphrantria cunea. This ID is a possibility because we do have fall webworms and there were some silky nests in the neighbourhood last year…including one at the very top of our birch tree.

However, none of the adult fall webworm photos I have come across showed as much of the orange and black markings on the abdomen as there were on the moth found in our garden. This could be because of regional differences within the species…hence my 10% uncertainty.

But for all intents and purposes…this particular white moth I have featured here has been named Spilosoma virginica, or yellow woolly bear, in my files.

If anyone has further information to keep this identification debate open…or can confirm I am correct, please contact me through the Contact Us page. (Quick link here.)