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Lepidoptera Families


The butterflies consist of over 20,000 described species that comprise the superfamilies Hesperioidea, Papilionoidea, and Hedyloidea. The term "Rhopalocera" is often used to refer to this group because of their club-shaped antennae. The majority of butterflies are brightly colored day flyers.


Choreutidae is a small family of diurnal moths that contains approximately 400 species worldwide. Often referred to as "metalmark moths," many of the adults are quite colorful with bright metallic scales.


The family Cossidae contains approximately 700 species worldwide. The moths range in size from small to very large, and many have very large abdomens. The larvae are borers, primarily in woody plants, and this group is sometimes referred to as the "carpenter moths."


Previously treated as a subfamily of Pyralidae, Crambidae is currently considered a separate family based on differences in the structure of the abdominal tympanum. Some members of the family, such as the European corn borer, are serious economic pests. The species illustrated here, Pyrausta orphisalis, is occasionally found in LBAM traps.


With more than 4600 described species worldwide, Gelechiidae is one of the largest families of microlepidoptera. Most members of the family are very small with narrow wings and long fringe. This family contains important economic pests such as the pink bollworm.


Geometridae is a large family of moths, with over 26,000 species described worldwide. Adults are small to large and generally have broad triangular wings. The larvae are often called "inchworms," referring to their unique form of locomotion.


Gracillariidae is a family of very small moths that number approximately 1800 species worldwide. The larvae are leaf miners and the shape and structure of the mine can be used to aid in identification. The family contains some economically significant pests, such as the citrus peelminer, which has caused significant damage to Citrus in California.


Hepialidae is a family of primitive moths that are most diverse in Australia, the Afrotropics, and the Neotropics. The moths range in size (wingspan) from 20 mm up to 250 mm for an Australian species. The grub-like larvae bore into stems or roots or create tunnels in the soil.


The family Limacodidae contains approximately 1500 species and are largely pantropical. Often referred to as "slug moths," the larvae most often have protuberances with uriticating setae, many with distinctive patterns. Roughly 15% of the caterpillars are devoid of spines and are well camophlaged from predators. This family contains well-known species such as the saddleback caterpillar and monkey slug.


The Lymantriidae contains over 2500 species worldwide. The most recent classification of the Noctuoidea by Fibiger and Lafontaine (2006) places Lymantriinae as a subfamily of Noctuidae, although the group is still treated as a separate family by many authors. It remains separate here because of the important pests contained within the group: European gypsy moth, Asian gypsy moth, painted apple moth, nun moth, tussock moths, etc. Many of these species are defoliators of trees and in outbreak years species such as the gypsy moth can defoliate millions of acres of forest.


Commonly referred to as the "Owlet moths," the Noctuidae is the largest family of Lepidoptera, with over 35,000 described species, and estimates of up to 100,000 species in total. This family contains some of the world's worst economic pests, including cutworms in the genus Spodoptera, Agrotis, and Helicoverpa. There is considerable debate as to the relationships within the superfamily Noctuoidea. The most recent classification by Fibiger and Lafontaine (2006) places the Arctiinae (tiger moths) and Lymantriinae as subfamilies within the family Noctuidae.


The family Notodontidae, or promiment moths, contains approximately 3,500 species worldwide. The adults are primarily medium-sized brown or gray moths and many resemble noctuids. The larvae of most species are solitary feeders, although some are serious forest pests and cause defoliation of the hosts.


Oecophoridae is a family of small to medium sized moths that includes over 7000 species worldwide. The family is most diverse in Australia where many species feed on decaying plant material on the floor of Eucalyptus forests.


Plutellidae is a family of small moths with less than 200 species worldwide. It includes the diamond-back moth, Plutella xylostella, which is a pest on cultivated Brassicaceae throughout the world.


The bagworms, or family Psychidae, consist of over 600 species worldwide. The larvae construct cases made from plant material in which they feed and complete their development. Many male psychids have wings that lack scales while females are usually flightless and never leave the larval case. Bagworm larvae can cause severe or complete defoliation of their host plants and many species are considered pests.


The family Pterophoridae, or plume moths, contains approximately 1000 species worldwide. The adults are easily recognized by their divided wings and "T-shaped" resting posture.


The Pyraloidea, or superfamily containing the Pyralidae and Crambidae, contains approximately 16,000 described species, making it one of the most diverse groups within Lepidoptera. The Pyralidae is currently treated as a separate family from Crambidae based on differences in the structure of the abdominal tympanum. Pyralid larvae have adapted to feed in many diverse environments, including in bees nests and in aquatic environments. Well known economic pests include the Indian meal moth, Plodia interpunctella, and the wax moth, Galleria mellonella.


The family Saturniidae contains approximately 1500 described species. The adults range in size from medium to very large, with some having a wingspan of up to 12", making them among the world's largest Lepidoptera. Saturniid larvae are also some of the largest in the Lepidoptera, with final instars of some species reaching close to 10 cm in length. Many saturniid larvae have colorful tubercules or spines and some have urticating, or stinging, hairs.


Members of the Sesiidae are often referred to as "clearwing moths" due to a lack of scales that make their wings transparent. Over 1300 species are described in the family, and many of the adults mimic wasps or hornets. The larvae are borers in trees, and some, like the peach tree borer, can be serious economic pests.


The family Sphingidae contains approximately 1200 species of medium to large moths. Commonly called "hawk moths," members of the family are known for their rapid flight and ability to hover while nectaring on flowers, much like hummingbirds. Many sphingid larvae have a horn at the posterior end of the abdomen, and some, such as the Tobacco hornworm, are regarded as economic pests.


The family Tineidae is comprised of approximately 3000 described species of small to medium sized moths. The larvae of most species have adapted to feed on detritus, lichens, and fungi, and very few feed on living plant tissue. The most well known members of the family are the clothes moths, the larvae of which feed on clothing and fabric.


The family Tortricidae consists of over 9,500 described species worldwide. The family is divided into three subfamilies: Olethreutinae, Tortricinae, and Chlidanotinae. The subfamily Tortricinae contains 11 tribes, approximately 5,000 species, and is more widely distributed in the Southern Hemisphere. The subfamily Olethreutinae contains over 4,300 species in 7 tribes and is more widely distributed in the Northern Hemisphere. The subfamily Chlidanotinae consists of 3 tribes and is found primarily in the Neotropics and Australia. Tortricidae contains many serious economic pests, including the light brown apple moth, coding moth, false codling moth, oriental fruit moth, green oak tortrix, summer fruit tortrix, and many others.

Characters that define tortricid adults include: head rough-scaled above; scaling of lower frons short, appressed and upwardly directed; proboscis well developed and unscaled; labial palpi three-segmented and generally held horizontally or porrect, with apical segment short and blunt; maxillary palpi reduced; ocelli and chaetosema present; and ovipositor lobes flat. An overview of tortricid morphology can be found in Gilligan et al. (2008).

Tortricid larvae are commonly referred to as leaf-rollers or leaf-tiers because they often web together leaves of the host plant. However, many species in the family are known or inferred to be borers in roots or stems of woody annuals or perennials, and others feed in the buds, twigs, seeds, or fruiting bodies of their hosts. Most tortricid larvae can be characterized by having a combination of the following characters: anal comb present; D2 setae on a common pinaculum on segment A9; and SD1 seta anterior to the spiracle on segment A8.


The ermine moths, or family Yponomeutidae, contains around 500 species. The adult moths are small to medium sized and many have spotted forewings. The larvae of some species are gregarious and they may construct large nests with extensive webbing.


The family Zygaenidae consists of over 1000 species worldwide, with the greatest number found in the tropics, although many of the Palearctic fauna once that to be distinct species are now considered to be forms. Many species are brightly colored, warning to predators that they are toxic from sequestering cyanides, while they may be urticating or non-spiny. A few species in the family are minor pests, such as two grape leaf skeletonizers, one each in eastern and western North America.