Genus Catocala - Underwings
Kingdom Animalia (Animals)
Phylum Arthropoda (Arthropods)
Subphylum Hexapoda (Hexapods)
Class Insecta (Insects)
Order Lepidoptera (Butterflies and Moths)
Superfamily Noctuoidea (Owlet Moths and kin)
Genus Catocala (Underwings)
Synonyms and other taxonomic changes
* formerly placed in family Noctuidae
Explanation of Names
Generic epithet Catocala
is Greek meaning "beautiful below." (1)
Common name Underwings refers to the posture where the forewings are normally held together over the back at rest, hiding the hindwings beneath. Hence, the hindwings are the (bold and beautiful) underwings that this genus is known for.
The common names of many species are translations of the species epithets; Linnaeus chose a female/marriage theme when naming a few of the earlier-described species, and the practice was continued by later authors (hence we have The Bride, The Girlfriend, Old Wife, The Widow, Once-married Underwing, The Newlywed, The Darling, etc.) These fanciful names help collectors and moth enthusiasts remember the various species but have no particular significance in themselves. A few species are named after a person or the larval food plant (example: Meske's Underwing, Hawthorn Underwing).
Lafontaine & Schmidt (2010) listed 101 species of the genus Catocala
in America north of Mexico. (2)
Powell & Opler (2009) reported 110 species in all of North America, and about 230 worldwide. (3)
generally large heavy-bodied erebids; wingspan ranges from 20 to 98 mm - a fair number of species are in the 40-50 mm range, and another group is in the 60-75 mm range
Forewing usually dull brownish/grayish with low-contrast pattern of wavy/zigzag lines, giving an overall appearance that resembles the bark of trees (upon which adults usually rest during the day)
hindwing usually black with brightly-colored bands (orange, yellow, pink, red); a number of species have all-black hindwings
Throughout North America. Genus also occurs in Eurasia.
Forests, especially deciduous forests.
Larvae of most species feed on foliage of deciduous trees.
Popular with collectors, due to large size, bright colors on hindwings, multiple color forms in many species, and the challenge of identifying specimens (many are difficult to distinguish from one or more similar species).
Nocturnal, so found at lights, but often encountered during the day in woodlands. They are seen perched on tree trunks and are adept at flying off just as the moth-watcher draws near enough for a good look or a photograph. They typically fly off through the trees, landing on the opposite side of a trunk, again frustrating the moth hunter. Some early advice on hunting underwings can be found here
When a resting adult is touched or disturbed, it may quickly spread its forewings to reveal the startling hindwings beneath. This might scare a predator off, or allow the moth time to either fly away or drop to the ground and hide among vegetation.
Large species may sometimes be mistaken for sphinx moths (Sphingidae). Smaller species at rest with the hindwings hidden can look similar to a number of other erebids. Species of Drasteria also have brightly-patterned black and yellow/orange hindwings, but their forewings usually have large and highly-contrasting pale patches.
Covell, pp. 172-174, 304-317, plates 32-37. (4)
Gall, L.F. 1990. Systematics of moths in the genus Catocala
(Noctuidae). II. Type material at the Museum of Comparative Zoology, Harvard University, with lectotype designations. Psyche
Gall, L.F. & D.C. Hawks, 1990. Systematics of moths in the genus Catocala
(Lepidoptera: Noctuidae). I. Fieldiana. Zoology.
Gall, L.F. & D.C. Hawks, 2002. Systematics of moths in the genus Catocala
(Noctuidae). III. The Types of William H. Edwards, Augustus R. Grote, and Achille Guenne. Jl. Lep. Soc. 56 (4): 234
Gall, L.F. & D.C. Hawks, 2010. Systematics of moths in the genus Catocala
(Lepidoptera, Erebidae) IV. Nomenclatorial stabilization of the Nearctic fauna, with a revised synonymic check list). ZooKeys
39: 37-83. (8)
Gall, L.F. & D.C. Hawks, 2015. Systematics of moths in the genus Catocala
(Noctuidae). V. Neotypification of Names in the Nearctic Fauna. Bulletin of the Peabody Museum of Natural History.
Hawks, D.C. 2010. Review of the Catocala delilah
species complex (Lepidoptera, Erebidae). ZooKeys
Holland, pp. 260-269, plates 31-36 (10)
Himmelman, pp. 118-120. (11)
Miller, pp. 67-68, # 113-117. (12)
Moth Photographer's Group--plate 26: specimens
, living moths
The Underwing Moths of Oklahoma: html file
, or PDF file
--keys and describes 35 species, giving some life-history information (no illustrations).
Legion of Night
species: description of adults, range, status, flight season, larval food plants, similar species, and notes on each by Theodore Sargent, plus plates and figures on anatomy, named forms, and variations (Joe Kunkel)
Insects of Cedar Creek
(live larva and pinned adult images, John Haarstad et al
, U. of Minnesota)
Harold Vermes slides
--linked images of specimens
The Catocala Website
. The online "Bible" of Catocala
species; an extensive collection of images and information on species identification, life histories, name pronunciation, collecting, feeding, and rearing these moths (Bill Oehlke, Prince Edward Island, Canada)
pinned adult image thumbnails
of 47 species occurring in eastern Canada (CBIF)
pinned adult image thumbnails
of 26 species occurring in western Canada (CBIF)
|3.||Moths of Western North America|
Powell and Opler. 2009. UC Press.
|4.||Peterson Field Guides: Eastern Moths|
Charles V. Covell. 1984. Houghton Mifflin Company.
|6.||Systematics of moths in the genus Catocala (Lepidoptera: Noctuidae). I.|
Gail, Lawrence F. & David C. Hawks. 1990. Fieldiana. Zoology. 59: 1-16.
|7.||Systematics of moths in the genus Catocala (Lepidoptera: Noctuidae). III.|
Gail, Lawrence F. & David C. Hawks. 2002. Journal of the Lepidopterists' Society. 56(4): 234-264.
|10.||The Moth Book|
W.J. Holland. 1968. Dover.
|12.||Macromoths of Northwest Forests and Woodlands|
Jeffrey Miller, Paul Hammond. 2000. USDA Forest Service, FHTET-98-18.
|13.||Caterpillars of Eastern Forests|
David L. Wagner, Valerie Giles, Richard C. Reardon, Michael L. McManus. 1998. U.S. Dept of Agriculture, Forest Health Technology Enterprise Team.