Adult black-and-yellow lichen moths are black with a bluish sheen, and the front (basal) portion of the wings is vivid yellow, orange, or red. The hindmost (distal) portion is black.
The camouflaged larvae have sparse hairs and resemble lichen, which they feed upon; this is why this group of moths are called lichen moths.
Wingspan: 1–1¼ inches.
Habitat and Conservation
Adults are commonly found in fields as they feed on flowers. Larvae stay close to the lichens upon which they feed, so look for them on lichen-covered rocks or tree trunks. The bright color pattern might mimic the warning colors of toxic beetles, which birds and other predators learn to avoid. Alternatively, the caterpillars might ingest distasteful or toxic compounds from the lichens they eat, which could make this species itself be inedible to predators.
Larvae feed on lichen, which are the crusty, spongelike or mosslike composites of fungi and algae that commonly grow on tree bark and rocks. The adults drink nectar from flowers, including composites such as goldenrod, fleabane daisies, sunflowers, and more.
Adults fly from July through September. Usually there are multiple generations. Unlike the majority of moths, this species flies during the day. The cocoons are hairy and are attached to objects near the lichen that the caterpillar fed upon. This species overwinters as nearly full-grown caterpillars.
Although some moths are considered “nuisances” or “beneficial,” this species excites neither frustration nor relief among economically minded people. This strikingly attractive moth is part of Missouri’s vast natural wealth.
The caterpillars are herbivores that graze on lichens. The adults serve a role in pollination. All stages provide food for the predators and parasites that can tolerate the defensive chemicals in their bodies.