Forewings of adult painted lichen moths are red-orange with dark gray stripes. The orange ground color is more yellowish closer to the head. There are three gray stripes per forewing: a broad stripe along the leading edge, another broad stripe along the inner edge, and a smaller stripe between them as they diverge toward the outer edge. Hindwings are pinkish, with a wide dark band along the outer edge.
Larvae are brown with yellow markings. They have numerous black tubercles with spinelike hairs. Be careful: The spines and hairs on the caterpillars of many moths can be irritating to the skin.
Wingspan: 1–1½ inches.
Habitat and Conservation
Look for this moth in the woods and in places near forests. Like most moths, this species is nocturnal and is attracted to lights. Many moths in this family have bright colors that announce the presence of inedible chemicals in their bodies. After “sampling” a few such moths, predators learn to avoid moths with those colors. Some tiger moths are perfectly edible but have developed color patterns like those of inedible species, since they gain protection with those colors, too.
Larvae feed on lichens, the often crusty-looking plantlike growths that develop on trees and rocks. Lichens are made of a fungus and a symbiotic partner organism that has the ability to conduct photosynthesis (usually, this partner is an alga). The larvae also feed on mosses and algae that can grow on trees.
In Missouri, adults probably fly from May through September. This species overwinters in the caterpillar stage. Those that survive winter pupate the following spring.
The attractive colors, patterns, and textures of moths and butterflies make them favorite subjects of artists of all ages and abilities. Indeed, good professional entomological (insect) illustrators are often in great demand when scientifically accurate depictions are needed.
The caterpillars of many moth species overwinter because they don’t freeze solid. They can survive because chemicals in their bodies function as a natural form of antifreeze. Other species, including some frogs and turtles, possess similar chemicals.