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Genus Catocala - Underwings

Catocala coccinata Catocala californica - Catocala junctura The Penitent - Catocala piatrix Little Underwing - Catocala minuta Catocala neogama/subnata - Catocala neogama Catocala ilia Hodges #8832.1 - Catocala carissima - Catocala carissima yellow-gray underwing - Catocala retecta-luctuosa
Show images of: caterpillars · adults · both
Kingdom Animalia (Animals)
Phylum Arthropoda (Arthropods)
Subphylum Hexapoda (Hexapods)
Class Insecta (Insects)
Order Lepidoptera (Butterflies and Moths)
Superfamily Noctuoidea (Owlet Moths and kin)
Family Erebidae
Subfamily Erebinae
Tribe Catocalini
Genus Catocala (Underwings)
Synonyms and other taxonomic changes
Catocala Schrank, 1802
* 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.
See Also
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.
Print References
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 97:121-129. (5)
Gall, L.F. & D.C. Hawks, 1990. Systematics of moths in the genus Catocala (Lepidoptera: Noctuidae). I. Fieldiana. Zoology. 59: 1-16.(6)
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): 234-264.(7)
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. 56(1):47-54.
Hawks, D.C. 2010. Review of the Catocala delilah species complex (Lepidoptera, Erebidae). ZooKeys 39: 13-35(9)
Holland, pp. 260-269, plates 31-36 (10)
Himmelman, pp. 118-120. (11)
Miller, pp. 67-68, # 113-117. (12)
Shrank, F., 1802. Favna Boica: durchgedachte Geschichte der in Baiern einheimischen und zahmen Thiere 2(2): 158.
Wagner, pp. 45-47. (13)
Internet References
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 71 Catocala 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)
North Carolina State University Entomology Collection lists about 42 species from that state.
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)
Works Cited
1.An accentuated list of the British Lepidoptera, with hints on the derivation of the names.
Anonymous. 1858. The Entomological Societies of Oxford and Cambridge.
2.Annotated check list of the Noctuoidea (Insecta, Lepidoptera) of North America north of Mexico.
Donald J. Lafontaine, B. Christian Schmidt. 2010. ZooKeys 40: 1–239 .
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.
5.Systematics of moths in the genus Catocala (Noctuidae). II.
Gall, Lawrence F. 1990. Psyche 97: 121-130.
6.Systematics of moths in the genus Catocala (Lepidoptera: Noctuidae). I.
Gall, Lawrence F. & David C. Hawks. 1990. Fieldiana. Zoology. 59: 1-16.
7.Systematics of moths in the genus Catocala (Lepidoptera: Noctuidae). III.
Gall, Lawrence F. & David C. Hawks. 2002. Journal of the Lepidopterists' Society. 56(4): 234-264.
8.Systematics of moths in the genus Catocala (Lepidoptera, Erebidae) IV. Nomenclatorial stabilization of the ....
Lawrence Gall, David Hawks. 2010. Zookeys 39: 37-83.
9.Review of the Catocala delilah species complex (Lepidoptera, Erebidae)
David C. Hawks. 2010. ZooKeys 39 (2010) : Special issue: 13-35.
10.The Moth Book
W.J. Holland. 1968. Dover.
11.Discovering Moths: Nighttime Jewels in Your Own Backyard
John Himmelman. 2002. Down East Books.
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.