British Insects: the Families of Lepidoptera


L. Watson and M. J. Dallwitz


Hydromenidae, Monocteniadae, Selidodesmidae, Sterrhidae.

Adults diurnal, or crepuscular, or nocturnal; small to large; relatively short-bodied (rarely), or medium-bodied (mostly), or long-bodied (rarely); nearly always relatively slender-bodied (wingspan more than 15 times the thoracic width). The abdomen conspicuously patterned (rarely, e.g. Abraxas being yellow-bodied with dorsal black spots), or plain (mostly). Adults with fully developed wings (the outline always more or less butterfly-shaped), or wingless, or with vestigial wings (females, occasionally); wings in repose apposed vertically over the back (occasionally), or spread flat with their lower surfaces more or less appressed to the substrate (mostly), or packed with the forewings directed backwards to cover hindwings and abdomen (or approaching this).

Antennae very short to of medium length; extending to about 0.4–0.6 times the length of the forewing; not clubbed. Antennae of males bipectinate, or dentate, or simple; non-ciliate, or simply-ciliate, or fasciculate-ciliate. The antennal segments without rings of scales. Eyes hairy, or glabrous (?). Ocelli absent. Chaetosemata present. Maxillary palps much reduced; 1 segmented (usually), or 2 segmented. Labial palps usually ascending; 3 segmented. Proboscis fully developed; not scaly.

Wingspan (16–)20–60(–69) mm; 10.5–14–19 times the thoracic width, or 7.2–9.2 times the thoracic width (very rarely, e.g. Biston, Lycia). Forewings broad; 1.6–1.9(–2.2) times as long as wide (very rarely reaching 2.0). The outer and hind margins angled at (90–)95–100(–115) degrees (the wider-angled condition mainly represented in Biston and Eupithecia). The outer margin convexly curved (nearly always), or more or less straight, or angulated (notably in Ennomos s. str.), or sigmoid-curved (e.g., in Ourapteryx); forewings apically blunt (nearly always), or pointed. Hindwings broadly rounded (nearly always), or broadly angular (occasionally, or angulated); quite markedly narrower than the forewings to similar in breadth to the forewings; with a rounded apex; angulated to tailed (rarely), or not tailed; the upper surfaces conspicuously patterned above, or plain; with a discal spot and with transverse lines (usually, with at least the median, second and sub-terminal lines, but often with alternately light-and-dark transverse striae additional to the and obscuring them), or with neither discal spot nor transverse lines (when the markings are more or less ‘obsolete’); with a frenulum.

Neuration of forewings and hindwings dissimilar. Forewings 11 veined, or 12 veined (more often); with 1 anal vein (mostly, with one or both of the other two sometimes represented by vestiges), or with 2 anal veins (rarely). The anal veins of the forewings representing 1b only (usually, but this often accompanied by vestiges of 1a and 1c), or comprising 1a and 1b (cf. Meyrick's figure of Opisthograptis luteolata). Forewings lacking a tubular vein 1c (but this sometimes present as a vestige). Vein 1b of the forewings furcate proximally to simple. The transverse vein complete to incomplete. Discal cell of the forewings without a tubular media (M) vein. Hindwings 8 veined, or 9 veined; with 1 anal vein, or with 2 anal veins. The anal veins of the hindwings representing 1b only, or comprising 1a and 1b (or 1a only). Hindwings exhibiting vein 1a; lacking a tubular vein 1c. Vein 1b of the hindwings simple. The transverse vein complete to incomplete. The hindwing cell emitting more than six veins, or emitting no more than six veins. 6 veins arising from the hindwing cell, or 7 veins arising from the hindwing cell (usually, including the anastomosed vein 8, with vein 5 sometimes vestigial only). The cell-derived hindwing veins all arising independently of one another, or 3+4 proximally joined, or 6+7 proximally joined, or 3+4 proximally joined and 6+7 proximally joined. Vein 8 of the hindwings completely independent of the cell (e.g., Opisthograptis, Odezia), or anastomosing with the upper margin of the cell (mostly, from near the base to beyond the middle); not approximating to vein 7.

Fore-legs with a tibial epiphysis. Tibiae of middle legs 2-spurred. Posterior tibiae 2-spurred, or 4-spurred.

Tympanal organs present; abdominal.

Eggs, larvae and pupae. Eggs markedly flattened; ribbed and/or reticulate. Larval prolegs 4 (‘loopers’, lacking prolegs on segments 7 to 9). Larvae exposed feeders. On divers Dicot trees, shrubs and herbs, even a few on conifers and lichens; but curiously, very few indeed (or none?) on Monocots.

Pupae exposed, with no coccoon, or concealed; suspended from the tail (cremaster), with no median silk girdle (mostly), or not suspended, but attached at the tail and secured by a median girdle of silk (attached to a leaf, and sometimes having a silken girdle in Cyclophora); subterranean, or on the surface of the ground, or above the ground. Empty pupae not becoming protruded.

British representation. Genera 130 (2 adventive); about 330 species (19 adventive, 1 extinct). See the separate Geometridae Intkey package for descriptions of all genera, and illustrations of nearly all the species.

Classification. Macromoths. Suborder Ditrysia. Superfamily Geometroidea.

Comments. This family exhibits numerous examples of melanism, including a few spectacular examples of near exclusive industrial melanism (notably in Biston betularia, in which the effects on habitats of industrial pollution boosted melanism from the status of a very rare mutation to almost 100% in some regions), as well as some examples of exclusively non-industrial rural melanism, with relatively large incidence of melanics for which “natural” selective factors have been postulated; and there is clear evidence in some species of drift to industrial melanism superimposed on the latter. Examples are depicted in illustrations provided with this family description, and under Agriopis, Alcis, Angerona, Apocheima (Phigalia), Biston, Ectropis, Epirrita, Erannis, Odontopera, Operophtera and Peribatoides in the accompanying ‘Genera of Geometridae’ package.

Illustrations. • Sterrhinae and Ennominae: Kirby. See the separate GENERA OF GEOMETRIDAE data set for comprehensive illustrations of this family. • Larentiinae (‘Carpets’): Kirby. • Larentiinae (‘Carpets’, ‘Pugs’, etc.): Kirby 51. • Crocallis elinguaria (Scalloped Oak): photo, Giles Watson. • Ennominae (‘Thorns’, etc.): Kirby. • Assorted Ennominae (‘Thorns’, with larvae, from Humphreys. • Ennominae: Kirby. • Biston betularia (Peppered Moth, typical and melanic forms), cf. Biston strataria (photos). • Ectropis crepuscularia (Small Engrailed: typical and melanic forms, photos). • Apterous Larentiinae: Phigalia (Pale Brindled Beauty), Erannis (Mottled Umber, Scarce Umber, Spring Usher, Dotted Border: Newman). • Agriopis leucophaearia (Spring Usher), A. marginaria (Dotted Border), A. aurantiaria (Scarce Umber): polymorphism and melanism (photos). • neuration: Geometriinae, Archiearinae, Larentiinae. • neuration: Ennominae, Archieariinae. • neuration: Geometrinae, Larentiinae, Ennominae. • Ennominae: Abraxas sylvata (Scarce or Clouded Magpie: B. Ent. 515). • Ennominae: Abraxas sylvata (legend+text: B. Ent. 515). • Ennominae: Abraxas sylvata (text, cont.: B. Ent. 515). • Ennominae: Deileptenia ribeata (Satin Beauty: B. Ent. 113). • Ennominae: Deileptenia ribeata: B.Ent. 113, legend+text. • Ennominae: Cleora cinctaria (Original generic description. Ringed Carpet: B. Ent. 88). • Cleora cinctaria: B. Ent. 88, legend+text. • Cleora cinctaria: B. Ent. 88, text cont.. • Ennominae: Aspitates gilvaria (Straw Belle: B. Ent. 467). • Aspitates gilvaria: B. Ent. 467, legend+text. • Aspitates gilvaria: B. Ent. 467, text cont.. • Ennominae: Semiothisa (Macaria) liturata (Original generic description. Tawny-barred Angle: B. Ent. 132). • Semiothisa (Macaria) liturata: B. Ent. 132, legend+text. • Semiothisa (Macaria) liturata: B. Ent. 132, text cont.. • Sterrhinae: Idaea degeneraria (Portland Ribbon Wave: B. Ent. 384). • Sterrhinae: Idaea degeneraria: B. Ent. 384, legend+text. • Sterrhinae: Idaea degeneraria: B. Ent. 384, text cont.. • Sterrhinae: Idaea muricata (Purple-bordered Gold: B. Ent. 523). • Idaea muricata: B. Ent. 523. legend+text. • Idaea muricata: B. Ent. 523. text cont.. • Archiearinae: Archiearis notha (Light Orange-underwing: B. Ent. 121). • Archiearis notha: B. Ent. 121, legend+text. • Archiearis notha: B. Ent. 121, text cont.. • Geometrinae: Thetidia smaragdaria (Essex Emerald Moth: B. Ent. 300). • Geometrinae: Thetidia smaragdaria: B. Ent. 300, legend+text. • Geometrinae: Thetidia smaragdaria: B. Ent. 300, text cont.. • Larentiinae: Paradarisa consonaria: Brindled Square-spot, Square-spot: B. Ent. 280). • Paradarisa consonaria: B. Ent. 280, legend+text. • Paradarisa consonaria: B. Ent. 280, text, cont.. • Larentiinae: Dyscia fagaria (Grey Scalloped Bar: B. Ent. 33). • Dyscia fagaria: B. Ent. 33, legend+text. • Dyscia fagaria: B. Ent. 33, text cont.. • Larentiinae: Gnophos obfuscatus (= Charissa Curtis. Scotch Annulet: B. Ent. 105). • Gnophos obfuscatus (~Charissa Curtis): B. Ent. 105, legend+text. • Gnophos obfuscatus = Charissa Curtis: B. Ent. 105, text cont.. • Larentiinae: Eupithecia linariata (Original generic description. Toaflax Pug: B. Ent. 64). • Eupithecia linariata: B. Ent. 64, legend+text. • Eupithecia linariata: B. Ent. 64, text cont.. • Larentiinae: Carsia sororiata (Manchester Treble-bar: B. Ent. 324). • Larentiinae: Carsia sororiata: B. Ent. 324, legend+text. • Larentiinae: Carsia sororiata: B. Ent. 324, text cont.. • Larentiinae: Trichopteryx polycommata (Barred Tooth-striped: B. Ent. 81). • Trichopteryx polycommata: B. Ent. 81, legend. • Larentiinae: Discoloxia blomeri (Curtis): Blomer's Rivulet; B. Ent. 416. • Discoloxia blomeri (B. Ent. 416, legend+text). • Discoloxia blomeri (B. Ent. 416, text cont.). • Larentiinae: Ourapteryx sambucaria (Swallow-tailed Moth: B. Ent. 508). • Ourapteryx sambucaria: B. Ent. 508, legend+text. • Ourapteryx sambucaria: B. Ent. 508, text cont.. • Larentiinae: Semiothisa (Macaria, Itame) brunneata (Rannoch Looper, B. Ent. 225). • Semiothisa (Macaria, Itame) brunneata: B. Ent. 225, legend+text. • Semiothisa (Macaria, Itame) brunneata: B. Ent. 225, text cont.. • Larentiinae: Thera cognata (Chestnut-coloured Carpet: B. Ent. 519). • Thera cognata: B. Ent. 519, legend+text. • Thera cognata: B. Ent. 519, text cont.. • Larentiinae: Aleucis distinctata (Grey Carpet, Sloe Carpet: B. Ent. 447). • Aleucis distinctata: B. Ent. 447, legend+text. • Aleucis distinctata: B. Ent. 447, text cont.. • Larentiinae: Nebula salicata (ssp. latentaria Curtis: Striped Twin-spot Carpet; B. Ent. 296). • Nebula salicata (ssp. latentaria Curtis: B. Ent. 296, legend+text). • Larvae: Hypomecis punctinalis, Ourapteryx sambucaria, Plagodis dolabraria (Duponchel, 1849).

To view illustrations with legends giving names in current use, go to the interactive key. This also offers full and partial descriptions, diagnostic descriptions, differences and similarities between taxa, lists of taxa exhibiting or lacking specified attributes, and distributions of character states within any set of taxa, as well as source references and other relevant material.

Cite this publication as: ‘Watson, L., and Dallwitz, M.J. 2003 onwards. British insects: the families of Lepidoptera. Version: 29th December 2011.’.