British Insects: the Families of Lepidoptera


L. Watson and M. J. Dallwitz


Caradrinidae; including Hylophilidae, Plusiadae. Excluding Arctiidae.

Adults crepuscular and nocturnal (mostly), or diurnal (e.g., many Plusiinae); relatively medium-bodied to long-bodied (nearly always distinctly long-bodied, with a few exceptions in the smaller tribes); medium built (wingspan more than 8 and less than 15 times the thoracic width) to heavily built (wingspan less than 8 times the thoracic width). The abdomen plain (very consistently, though sometimes with a dorsal crest of darker hairs on the anterior segments). Adults wings in repose packed with the forewings directed backwards to cover hindwings and abdomen.

Antennae of medium length; extending to about 0.5–0.6–0.8 times the length of the forewing. Antennae of males bipectinate, or dentate, or simple; non-ciliate, or simply-ciliate, or fasciculate-ciliate. Eyes neither notched nor emarginate, and clearly separated from the bases of the antennal sockets; hairy, or glabrous. Ocelli present. Chaetosemata absent. Mandibles not developed. Maxillary palps much reduced; 1 segmented. Labial palps well developed; porrect, or ascending; 3 segmented. Proboscis fully developed (nearly always), or absent (rarely); when developed, i.e. usually, not scaly.

Wingspan (14–)20–60(–106) mm; 6–8.5(–10) times the thoracic width, or 10–13 times the thoracic width (with nearly all the relatively narrow-bodied species representing Hypeninae). Forewings narrow to broad; (1.6–)2–2.8 times as long as wide (being relatively narrow in the large tribes with ‘trifid’ hindwing neuration, but sometimes broader in those where it is ‘quadrifid’). The outer and hind margins angled at 95–120 degrees. The outer margin convexly curved (nearly always), or sigmoid-curved (somewhat, occasionally), or angulated (e.g., in S. libatrix, P. meticulosa); forewings predominantly shining-metallic, or exhibiting shining-metallic markings, or neither shining-metallic nor with shining metallic markings (the Plusiinae being typified by metallic effects); ground colour predominantly green (e.g., Chloephorinae, some Acronictinae), or light brown, or dark brown, or orange-brown, or coppery red, or black, or grey (most commonly dingy grey-brown (“fuscous”), diverse in markings, but usually with clear orbicular and reniform marks); forewings without eye-spots above (in British species); forewings without a jugum. Hindwings broadly rounded; similar in breadth to the forewings to markedly broader than the forewings; with a rounded apex; the upper surfaces conspicuously patterned above (then most commonly in the form of a dark border to the sometimes brightly coloured wing), or plain (being more often no more than darkened distally); with a discal spot, or with a discal spot and with transverse lines (the second and/or subterminal lines sometimes detectable), or with neither discal spot nor transverse lines (the lines and discal mark often more or less ‘obsolete’); with a frenulum.

Neuration of forewings and hindwings dissimilar. Forewings nearly always 12 veined; with 1 anal vein (mostly), or with 2 anal veins. The anal veins of the forewings representing 1b only (mostly), or comprising 1a and 1b (with Meyrick showing a proximally strong but distally incomplete 1a in Pseudoips prasinana). Forewings lacking a tubular vein 1c (though this sometimes represented as a vestige). Vein 1b of the forewings furcate proximally to simple. Discal cell of the forewings without a tubular media (M) vein. Hindwings 8 veined (usually), or 9 veined; with 2 anal veins. The anal veins of the hindwings comprising 1a and 1b. Hindwings exhibiting vein 1a; lacking a tubular vein 1c. Vein 1b of the hindwings simple. The hindwing cell emitting more than six veins, or emitting no more than six veins. 6 veins arising from the hindwing cell (usually, including the anastomosed vein 8, with 5 usually missing or vestigial), or 7 veins arising from the hindwing cell (in the ‘quadrifid’ forms, where 5 is strong). The cell-derived hindwing veins 3+4 proximally joined, or 6+7 proximally joined, or 3+4 proximally joined and 6+7 proximally joined (3 and 4 can be connate or free, 6 and 7 are nearly always connate or stalked). Vein 8 of the hindwings anastomosing with the upper margin of the cell (from near its base to the middle); not approximating to vein 7.

Fore-legs with a tibial epiphysis. Tibiae of middle legs 2-spurred. Posterior tibiae 4-spurred; hairy, or not hairy.

Tympanal organs present; metathoracic.

Eggs, larvae and pupae. Eggs not flattened; ribbed and/or reticulate. Larval prolegs 6, or 8 (the Catocalinae and Plusiinae being semi-loopers, with the first 1–2 pairs reduced or lacking), or 10 (mostly). Larvae conspicuously, densely long-hairy (infrequently, e.g. Acronycta), or not densely long-hairy (usually); with urticating hairs (e.g., Acronycta), or without urticating hairs (mostly); without bristly spines; exposed feeders, or concealed feeders; subterranean (many root feeders), or not subterranean. On divers dicotyledonous herbs, trees and shrubs; many on Gramineae, and a few on Cyperaceae, Typha, Sparganium, and conifers.

Pupae smooth and rounded; plain; subterranean (commonly), or on the surface of the ground, or above the ground (some attaching cocoons to leaves, stems, etc.). Empty pupae not becoming protruded.

British representation. Genera about 90 (about 25 adventive); about 425 species (about 60 adventive). See the separate Noctuidae Intkey package for descriptions of all genera, and illustrations of nearly all the species.

Classification. Macromoths. Suborder Ditrysia. Superfamily Noctuoidea.

Comments. This family exhibits numerous examples of melanism, some apparently representing exclusively non-industrial rural melanism, and others representing drift to industrial melanism superimposed on the latter. Some of them are exemplified by the illustrations provided with this family description, and under the names Allophyes, Apamea, Mesapamea, Noctua and Olygia in the accompanying ‘Genera of Noctuidae’ package.

Illustrations. • Plusiinae: Autographa gamma (Silver Y), A. jota (Plain Golden Y), A. pulchrina (Beautiful Golden Y), Diachrysia chrysitis (Burnished Brass), Plusia festucae (Gold Spot) and Polychrysia moneta (Golden Plusia): photos. • Noctuinae: Kirby. See the separate GENERA OF NOCTUIDAE data set for comprehensive illustrations of this family. • Assorted Noctuidae: Humphreys. • Assorted Noctuidae-Catocalinae: Humphreys. • Wainscots (Noctuidae-Hadeninae: Newman). • Herminiinae, Hypeninae and Rivulinae (Snout, Fan-foot, etc.. • Ophiderinae and Hypeninae: Kirby 44. • Ophiderinae and Catocalinae: Kirby. • Noctuidae-Acronictinae: Newman. • Hadeninae: Panolis flammea (Pine-destroying Noctua, Pine Beauty. B. Ent. 117). • Panolis flammea: B. Ent. 117, legend+text. • Panolis flammea: B. Ent. 117, text cont.. • Acronictinae: Acronicta rumicis (Knot-grass: B. Ent. 136). • Acronicta rumicis: (B. Ent. 136, legend+text. • Acronicta rumicis: B. Ent. 136, text cont.. • Acronictinae: Moma alpium (Scarce Merveille-du-jour: B. Ent. 404). • Moma alpium: B. Ent. 404, legend+text). • Moma alpium: B. Ent. 404, legend+text). • Noctuinae: Agrotis cinerea (Light Feathered Rustic: B. Ent. 165). • Noctuinae: Agrotis cinerea: B. Ent. 165, legend+text. • Noctuinae: Agrotis cinerea: B. Ent. 165, text cont.. • Noctuinae: Actebia praecox (Portland Moth, Portland Dart: B. Ent. 539). • Actebia praecox: B. Ent. 539, legend+text. • Actebia praecox: B. Ent. 539, text cont.. • Noctuinae: Eurois occulta (Great Brocade: B. Ent. 248). • Eurois occulta: B. Ent. 248, legend+text. • Eurois occulta: B. Ent. 248, text cont.. • Noctuinae: Noctua comes ab. curtisii (Bute Yellow Underwing, Lesser Yellow Underwing variety: B. Ent. 348). • Noctuinae: Noctua comes ab. curtisii: B. Ent. 348. legend+text. • Noctuinae: Noctua comes ab. curtisii: B. Ent. 348. text cont.. • Hadeninae: Anarta myrtilli (Beautiful Yellow Underwing: B. Ent. 145). • Anarta myrtilli: B. Ent. 145, legend+text. • Anarta myrtilli: B. Ent. 145, text cont.. • Hadeninae: Mythimna litoralis (Curtis): Shore Wainscot: B. Ent. 157. • Mythimna litoralis (B. Ent. 157, legend+text). • Mythimna litoralis (B. Ent. 157, text cont.). • Hadeninae: Cerapteryx graminis Linn. ab. hibernicus Curtis (Original generic description. Antler: B. Ent. 451). • Cerapteryx graminis Linn. ab. hibernicus Curtis (B. Ent. 451, legend+text). • Cerapteryx graminis Linn. ab. hibernicus Curtis (B. Ent. 451, text cont.). • Hadeninae: Hadena rivularis (Campion: B. Ent. 308). • Hadeninae: Hadena rivularis: B. Ent. 308, legend+text. • Hadeninae: Hadena rivularis: B. Ent. 308, text cont.. • Hadeninae: Mythimna flammea (Curtis): Flame Wainscot: B. Ent. 201. • Mythimna flammea: B. Ent. 201, legend+text. • Mythimna flammea: B. Ent. 201, text cont.. • Cuculliinae: Cucullia asteris (Star-wort Shark: B. Ent. 45). • Cucullia asteris: B. Ent. 45, legend. • Cuculliinae: Celaena haworthii (Curtis): Haworth's Minor: B. Ent. 260. • Celaena haworthii (B. Ent. 260, legend+text). • Celaena haworthii (B. Ent. 260, text cont.). • Cuculliinae: Hydraecia micacea (Rosy Rustic, Rosy Ear: B. Ent. 252). • Hydraecia micacea: B. Ent. 252, legend+text. • Hydraecia micacea: B. Ent. 252, text cont.. • Cuculliinae: Meganephria bimaculosa (Double-spot Brocade: B. Ent. 177). • Meganephria bimaculosa: B. Ent. 177, legend+text. • Meganephria bimaculosa: B. Ent. 177, text cont.. • Cuculliinae: Omphaloscelis lunosa (Lunar Underwing: B. Ent. 237). • Omphaloscelis lunosa: B. Ent. 237, legend+text. • Omphaloscelis lunosa: B. Ent. 237, text cont.. • Cuculliinae: Trachea atriplicis (Orache, Orache Brocade: B. Ent. 431). • Trachea atriplicis: B. Ent. 431, legend+text. • Trachea atriplicis: B. Ent. 431, text cont.. • Cuculliinae: Atethmia centrago (Centre-barred Sallow: B. Ent. 84). • Atethmia centrago: B. Ent. 84, legend. • Cuculliinae: Xylena exsoleta (Large Sword-Grass, Cloudy Sword-grass: B. Ent. 256). • Cuculliinae: Conistra ligula ab. subnigra (Dark Chestnut: B. Ent. 268). • Conistra ligula ab. subnigra: B. Ent. 268, legend+text. • Conistra ligula ab. subnigra: B. Ent. 268, text cont.. • Heliothidinae: Periphanes delphinii (Pease-blossom: B. Ent. 76). • Periphanes delphinii: B. Ent. 76, legend. • Catocalinae: Catocala nupta (Red Underwing: B. Ent. 217). • Catocalinae: Catocala nupta: B. Ent. 217, legend+text. • Catocalinae: Catocala nupta: B. Ent. 217, text cont.. • Acontiinae: Acontia nitidula (Brixton Beauty Moth: alien, B. Ent. 276). • Acontia nitidula: B. Ent. 276, legend+text. • Acontia nitidula: B. Ent. 276, text cont.). • Acontiinae: Protodeltote pygarga (Marbled White-spot: B. Ent. 356). • Protodeltote pygarga: B. Ent. 356, legend+text. • Protodeltote pygarga: B. Ent. 356, text cont.. • Acontiinae: Eublemma ostrina (Purple Marbled: B. Ent. 140). • Eublemma ostrina: B. Ent. 140, legend+text. • Eublemma ostrina: B. Ent. 140, text cont.. • Ophiderinae: Lygephila pastinum (Black-neck: B. Ent. 475). • Lygephila pastinum: B. Ent. 475, legend+text. • Lygephila pastinum: B. Ent. 475, text cont.. • Hypeninae: Hypena crassalis (Beautiful Snout: B. Ent. 288). • Hypeninae: Hypena crassalis: B. Ent. 288, legend+text. • Hypeninae: Hypena crassalis: B. Ent. 288, text cont.. • Hypeninae: Macrochilo cribrumalis (Dotted Fan-foot: B. Ent. 527). • Macrochilo cribrumalis: B. Ent. 527, legend+text. • Macrochilo cribrumalis: B. Ent. 527, text cont.. • Chloephorinae: Bena bicolorana (Scarce Silver Lines: B. Ent. 575). • Bena bicolorana: B. Ent. 575, legend+text. • Bena bicolorana: B. Ent. 575, text cont.. • B. bicolorana (Scarce Silver-lines) and other Chloephorinae: Kirby. • Pseudoips prasinana: B. Ent. 575, text cont.. • Sarrothripinae: Nycteola revayana var. ramosana (Oak Nycteoline: B. Ent. 29). • Nycteola revayana var. ramosana: B. Ent. 29, legend+text. • Nycteola revayana var. ramosana: B. Ent. 29, text cont.. • Allophyes oxyacanthae, light and melanic (photos). • Apamea monoglypha and A. crenata: light and melanic (photos). • Mesapamea secalis (Common Rustic, light and melanic: photos). • Polia nebulosa (Grey Arches, light and melanic: photos). • Light and melanic forms of Noctua pronuba and N. fimbriata, with N. janthe, N. comes and N. iterjecta (Yellow Underwings, photos). • Light and melanic forms of Agrotis exclamationis (Heart and Dart: photos). • Larvae: Acronicta megacephala, Acronicta rumicis (Duponchel, 1849). • Larvae, pupa: Catocala electa, Catocala fraxini (Duponchel, 1849). • Larvae, pupae: Hadena albimacula, Hadena bicruris, Hadena confusa (Duponchel, 1849). • Larvae, pupa: Noctua fimbriata, Noctua pronuba (Duponchel, 1849). • Neuration: Hadeninae (Mamestra brassicae). • Neuration: Chloephorinae, Hypeninae, Ophiderinae.

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.’.