Identification, Images, & Information
For Insects, Spiders & Their Kin
For the United States & Canada
Clickable Guide
Moths Butterflies Flies Caterpillars Flies Dragonflies Flies Mantids Cockroaches Bees and Wasps Walkingsticks Earwigs Ants Termites Hoppers and Kin Hoppers and Kin Beetles True Bugs Fleas Grasshoppers and Kin Ticks Spiders Scorpions Centipedes Millipedes

Upcoming Events

See Moth submissions from National Moth Week 2023

Photos of insects and people from the 2022 BugGuide gathering in New Mexico, July 20-24

Photos of insects and people from the Spring 2021 gathering in Louisiana, April 28-May 2

Photos of insects and people from the 2019 gathering in Louisiana, July 25-27

Photos of insects and people from the 2018 gathering in Virginia, July 27-29

Photos of insects and people from the 2015 gathering in Wisconsin, July 10-12

Previous events

Carnivorous Lepidoptera

Moths and butterflies are by far the most vegetarian of all the major insect orders; probably less than 1% are carnivorous, some in a regular basis, others only when vegetable material is scarce or when they are crowded. I became interested in the problem when I was raising some sawfly larvae and they began to disappear; the culprit was another larva which I had missed at first. It soon became bigger than all the other larvae and the differences became obvious. It turned out to be Lithophane antennata, the Ashen Pinion. Sam Jaffe and Dave Wagner identified the caterpillar and added some comments, see them under this image:

The most complete information on carnivorous caterpillars is provided by Naomi Pierce, the author of Predatory and Parasitic Lepidoptera: Carnivores living on plants. (Journal of Lepidopterists’ Society. 49(4), 1995, 412-453).
According to Naomi Pierce’s paper there are predatory and parasitic Lepidoptera in the following superfamilies: Tineoidea, Gelechioidea, Tortricoidea, Zyganenoidea, Pyraloidea, Geometroidea, Noctuoidea and Papilionoidea.
Some species are only carnivorous under conditions of food scarcity or crowding; in such circumstances some may also resort to cannibalism. That is the case of the pinions. There are other species which are obligate carnivores, such as the planthopper parasite moth and the harvester.

The most spectacular carnivorous caterpillars are a few Geometridae of Hawaii that have evolved amazing predatory skills. Who would have thought that cute inchworms could be so ferocious? You can see them in action in this video. More information in Geojournal

Some predatory and parasitic Lepidoptera present in Bugguide

A member of Papilionoidea: Feniseca tarquinius Harvester

And possibly another Papilionoidea, mite eater: Celastrina serotina Cherry Gall Azure

The notorious planthopper parasite moth, the only member of the family Epipyropidae: Fulgoraecia exigua

Pyralids that feeds on scale insects, genus Laetilia and Baphala:
Laetilia coccidivora

Laetilia dilatifasciella

Laetilia zamacrella

Baphala spp. (ref)

Three species of Cosmopterigidae are internal parasites of scale insects
Euclemensia barksdalensis (no images), Euclemensia bassettella and Euclemensia schwarziella

A bagworm, family Psychidae, mostly herbivore; also feeds on mites and scale insects of the host plant
Cryptothelea gloverii

Pinion moths, members of the Noctuidae family, that ordinarily feed on plants but can resort to sawfly larvae and caterpillars, including some of their own siblings: Lithophane spp

A clothes moth that eats animal products along with wool: Tineola bisselliella - Webbing Clothes Moth

Two crambids in the genus Chalcoela

Chalcoela iphitalis - Sooty-winged Chalcoela

Chalcoela pegasalis - Pegasus Chalcoela

Members of family Erebidae with barbed proboscis, can feed on the blood of large animals, including humans!
Calyptra - Vampire Moths

The following are known to resort to cannibalism under certain circumstances:
1. Several Noctuids: Helicoverpa zea - Corn Earworm Moth (ref)

Heliothis (ref)

Spodoptera frugiperda - Fall Armyworm Moth


2. A few tiger moths, family Erebidae: Estigmene acrea - Salt Marsh Moth

Pyrrharctia isabella (Isia) - Isabella Tiger Moth

Utetheisa ornatrix - Rattlebox Moth

Update, 8/31/2017
In Hawaii, there is a species that feeds on snails, Hyposmocoma molluscivora, according to Daniel Rubinoff, William P. Haines. Web-Spinning Caterpillar Stalks Snails. Science, 2005. It uses its silk to bundle the snail.

Update, 1/7/2019
A Palaearctic noctuid Eupsilia transversa (satellite moth) has been reported to eat other larvae occasionally.Wikipedia

There may be others that I will be happy to add later.

Carnivorous Lepidoptera
Don't forget the Blues, e.g., Large Blue, an obligate predator of certain ant species.

Caterpillars of Celastrina serotina (Cherry Gall Azure) feed on galls on the upper surface of leaves of Black Cherry (Prunus serotina); other food in northern part of range includes Viburnum, Diervilla, Aralia, Ceanothus, Cornus. But the mites, Eriophyes cerasicrumena, are microscopic. Do they feed on the mites or the gall tissue? I will check further.
Some not North American blues are carnivorous, but my list is limited to species present in Bugguide.

Feed on scale insects

Another genus to add: Baphala (Pyralidae)
According to Bugguide's information page, larvae of the genus Baphala (Pyralidae) feed on scale insects

It belongs to the same tribe as another pyralid that feeds on scale insects. I wouldn't be surprised if they have other relatives that do the same.

...or maybe non-relatives... Cryptothelea gloverii, which feeds on the Camphor Scale (Pseudaonidia duplex).

Genus to add: Chalcoela (Crambidae)
According to the guide, the species of Chalcoela, of which there are two in North America, are parasitoids of the larvae and pupae of Polistes.

A caterpillar turning the tables on caterpillar-eating wasps

Thanks for the compilation! I always learn more when exposed to diverse members of any group (I still miss J&J's color coded Ichneumons) especially for groups which I didn't know existed.

Last year I sent in a multiple subject photo and suggested that one subject might be a dryinid larva but which now, thanks to this Article, appears to be a Planthopper Parasite Moth larva. Even though the photo ended up among the spiders, a search for "dryinid" still pulls up the thumbnail. I should now edit much of what I wrote at that time but wonder how or if that will effect the search database (or should I move this discussion to another forum?)

Another photo
I don't know that you really need to make any changes to the comments below the photo you refer to, but you may want to add the information you now have. It would be very nice if you submitted a picture of the planthopper parasite moth larva separately because we have so few of them. Interestingly they are not uncommon; once you know what to look for, you see them often. I have found several hanging from trees by a thread when they are ready to pupate, so it is easy to get the adult too if you take them home and wait a while.

Comment viewing options
Select your preferred way to display the comments and click 'Save settings' to activate your changes.