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Species Autographa californica - Alfalfa Looper Moth - Hodges#8914

Noctuid- Plusiinae? - Autographa californica Moth - Autographa californica Moth - Autographa californica Owlet moth - Autographa californica Moth - Autographa californica Possible Autographa californica - Autographa californica Autographa californica Autographa?  Chrysodeixis? - Autographa californica
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 Noctuidae (Owlet Moths)
Subfamily Plusiinae (Looper Moths)
Tribe Plusiini
Subtribe Plusiina
Genus Autographa
Species californica (Alfalfa Looper Moth - Hodges#8914)
Hodges Number
Other Common Names
Alfalfa Looper (larva)
Synonyms and other taxonomic changes
Autographa californica (Speyer, 1875)
Plusia gamma var. californica Speyer, 1875
Plusia california[sic] var. russea Hy. Edwards, 1886
Phylogenetic sequence # 931193 (1)
Explanation of Names
CALIFORNICA: the type specimen was collected in California, and named Plusia gamma var. californica.
Wingspan 3.6-4.2 cm. (2)
Forewing length 1.4-2.0 cm. (3)
Adult - grayish-black moth with silvery or bluish sheen in fresh specimens; forewing mottled pale gray in basal and subterminal areas, and dark blackish-brown in lower median area and along subterminal line; AM and PM lines and area below stigma dark reddish-brown; stigma silvery white, forming outward curving arc with rounded tip and a widely-separated fork at upper end; black dash connects PM line and ST line about one-third distance from costa along ST line (the dash is the most prominent of several black-outlined veins in subterminal area). Hindwing pale grayish in basal half, shading (usually abruptly) into wide dark terminal band; antennae simple; sexes alike.

Larva - body green with distinct white spiracular line and faint white discontinuous dorsal lines; two pairs of mid-abdominal prolegs (typical of Plusiinae larvae).
Historically, Alaska to California and northern Mexico, east to New Mexico, north to Manitoba. Recent sightings across the northern US and eastern Canada may indicate colonization of new territory by the species. Listed below are records east of the Mississippi River both here and on iNaturalist, by state or province ordered by date of first sighting.

NS: 2012: 12 xi
WI: 2013: 31 viii; 2014: 7 vii; 2019: 3 vii
MA: 2017: 23 x
MN: 2019: 19 vii
RI: 2019: 7 viii
ON: 2019: 9 viii, 11 viii, 28 viii, 20 ix, 20 x
IL: 2019: 15 viii, 24 viii
VT: 2019: 22 viii; 2020: 30 vii
NY: 2019: 24 ix
QC: 2019: 6 x
ME: 2019: 26 x; 2020: 2 xi
Open meadows, hayfields, croplands, gardens and woodland edges; adults are active day and night, and are attracted to light. (2)
Adults fly from February to November in the south; May to October in the north. Larvae present from early spring through late fall.
Larvae feed on leaves of more than 50 genera of herbaceous plants and woody shrubs; legumes such as alfalfa and clover are common hosts (Eichlin & Cunningham, 1978). Adults nectar on a variety of low plants.
Life Cycle
Several generations per year.
See Also
The black dash along the ST line (described in Identification section above) is diagnostic, separating californica from the very similar A. pseudogamma
Several Syngrapha species are similar but have either yellow in the hindwing and/or a differently-shaped stigma and/or lack black-margined veins in ST area of forewing (see thumbnail images of pinned adults in the subfamily Plusiinae)
Print References
Eichlin, T.D. & H.B. Cunningham 1978. The Plusiinae (Lepidoptera: Noctuidae) of America north of Mexico, emphasizing genitalic and larval morphology. USDA Tech. Bulletin 1567: 1-122. (4)
Powell, J.A. & P. A. Opler 2009. Moths of Western North America. University of California Press. pl.49.33m, p.278 (3)
Speyer, A. 1875. Europäisch-amerikanische Verwandtschaften. Stettin ent. Ztg. 36(4-6): 164
Internet References
live larva image plus description, biology, food plants, seasonality (Jeffrey Miller, Caterpillars of Pacific Northwest Forests and Woodlands; USGS)