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Family Pterophoridae - Plume Moths

Pterophoridae: pupa - Paraplatyptilia Plume moth - pupa - Geina periscelidactylus Unknown Caterpillar larva Pterophoridae, 2nd spent pupa - Geina Adaina ambrosiae caterpillar on Ambrosia trifida, shown with leaf markings - Adaina ambrosiae Leaf feeder, Geum - Geina Possible Caterpillar for Plume Moth
Show images of: caterpillars · adults · both
Kingdom Animalia (Animals)
Phylum Arthropoda (Arthropods)
Subphylum Hexapoda (Hexapods)
Class Insecta (Insects)
Order Lepidoptera (Butterflies and Moths)
Superfamily Pterophoroidea (Plume Moths)
Family Pterophoridae (Plume Moths)
Synonyms and other taxonomic changes
Pterophoridae Latreille, 1802
147 species in 26 genera in North America.
Wingspan 13-41 mm
Adult: wings very slender, held at right-angles to body when at rest, giving a T-shaped profile as viewed from above; forewing outer margin deeply notched; hindwing has three deep lobes, often fringed, held concealed beneath forewing when at rest; legs long, slender (hind tibia two to three times longer than femur), sometimes with projecting spines at joints; abdominal terga 2 and 3 generally elongated.

Larva: usually hairy or bristly, variously colored.

Guide to the Adults of the Subfamilies of Plume Moths (Pterophoridae)
Timothy Reichard, September 2023

The plume moths north of Mexico fall into three subfamilies, distinguishable in photos of live specimens. Only one species is present in each of two of the subfamilies, and all the other species fall into the third.

1. Neither forewing nor hindwing deeply cleft (notched), and so neither wing is split into lobes, being Entire-winged Plume Moths: Agdistinae
One species, Agdistis americana, occurs in coastal southern California.

2. Forewing cleft usually cleft twice (three lobes), sometimes cleft just once (two lobes). Hindwing always cleft twice (three lobes): Deuterocopinae
One species, Leptodeuterocopus neales, occurs in southern Florida, apparently with the forewing having only two lobes as in Pterophorinae: Oxyptilini below. This species can be distinguished from all the Pterophorinae species by dorsal wing and abdominal patterns.

3. Forewing cleft once (two lobes) and hindwing cleft twice (three lobes), being Five-lobed Plume Moths: Pterophorinae
All other species north of Mexico.
most of North America, and many other regions of the world
adults are commonly found on flowers of herbaceous plants during the day, but are also nocturnal and come to light
adults fly from spring through fall; may be active all year in the far south
Larvae are leafrollers or stem borers of various herbaceous plants. Eisner (1) describes the remarkable caterpillar of one species, Trichoptilus parvulus, that feeds on the leaves of Pink Sundew (Drosera capillaris), a carnivorous plant.
Adults feed on nectar/pollen of various herbaceous plants.
Life Cycle
Some species overwinter as adults, so may be found in early spring. Many species form a naked pupa attached by a cremaster to a surface, much like that of some butterflies. A few species form partial cocoons. One to several generations per year.

Click on an image to view the life cycle:

A distinctive family of moths, but difficult to identify to genus or species.
See Also
Many-plumed moths (family Alucitidae) spread their wings in a fan shape when at rest, and therefore do not have a T-shaped profile as viewed from above.
Print References
Eisner, pp. 108-113 (1)
Covell, p. 391, plate 58 #19, #21 (2)
Himmelman, pp. 47-48 (3)
Holland, pp. 415-416 (4)
Internet References
pinned adult images of numerous species and genera by various photographers (Moth Photographers Group)
list of North American species with numerous accompanying images and links to other images (Debbie Matthews, Pterophoridae of North America,
adult image of Platyptilia carduidactyla by Stephanie Boucher, plus brief overview of family (Canadian Biodiversity, McGill U., Quebec)
links to pinned adult images of several species (Bruce Walsh, Moths of Southeastern Arizona)
presence in Minnesota (Insects of Cedar Creek, Minnesota)
Works Cited
1.For Love of Insects
Thomas Eisner. 2003. Belknap Press.
2.Field Guide to Moths of Eastern North America
Charles V. Covell, Jr. 2005.
3.Discovering Moths: Nighttime Jewels in Your Own Backyard
John Himmelman. 2002. Down East Books.
4.The Moth Book
W.J. Holland. 1968. Dover.