More than 3,500 species in this family (Gaede, 1934).
Synapomorphies supporting the monophyly of Notodontidae include the following (Miller 1991):
- sclerotized apices of tibial spurs with margins serrate;
- metascutal bulla present, teardrop-shaped;
- forewing vein R2 stalked with R3-5, no accessory cell present;
- pleuron of female abdominal segment 8 paritally membranous;
- female abdomen with ventral invaginated glandular region present on membrane between papillae anales and ostium;
- males with a terminal tuft of long, hairlike scales, scale apices simple or serrate;
- mandibular cutting edge smooth;
- body evenly covered with secondary setae, large setae or sometimes verrucae present at primary setal locations;
- MD setae bisetose on abdominal segment 1;
- seta X located in E area near anterolateral corner of anal shield (or a verruca in that position);
- crochets uniordinal
Nearctic, Palearctic, Oriental, Ethiopian, Neotropical, Australian
Geographic Range description:
This family is distributed worldwide, but is most diverse in lowland tropical forests. Over half the described species are found in the Neotropics.
Egg mass pattern:
Description of egg morphology:
Hemispherical or spherical in shape.
Adult Abdomen Morphology
Female genitalia description:
Scale tuft on segment 7 present in some genera. Dorsum of tergum 8 is typically sclerotized. Degree of sclerotization and length of ductus bursae variable. Posterior margin of the postvaginal plate with numerous modifications.
Female pregenital sexual scales:
Female oviduct opening:
Female bursa ostium opening:
on venter 8
Female anterior apophyses originating:
originating from T8
Male pregenital sexual scales:
Male genitalia description:
Saccus typically absent; Sacculus pleated.
Adult abdomen description:
Andorconia present on segments A3 and A4. Cteniphore on A4 present or absent. Modified anterior apodemes and medial pits occurring on segment A8. Intersegmental membrane of A8/A9 long, terminal scale tuft present.
phallotheca and aedeagus (phallus)
Adult Thorax Morphology
Adult thorax description:
The epiphysis is occasionally absent from the female. The tips of the tibial spurs are typically sclerotized with margins serrated, tibial spur formula is 0-2-2 or 0-2-4.
Number of tibial spurs foreleg:
Number of tibial spurs midleg:
Number of tibial spurs hindleg:
Forewing length from base of forewing to the apex (mm):
from 17 to 22
M2 arises midway between MA1 and MP1; trifid condition.
Forewing cell veins:
Forewing basal loop:
Hindwing cell vein:
present, with frenulum, spines (with reticulatum?)
R2 vein is often stalked with R3-5, and vein M2 does not arise nearer M3 than to M1. Accessory cell present or absent; when present shape of accessory cell variable. Retinaculum is bar-shaped.
Hindwing cubital vein can be trifid or quadrifid; M2 typically absent.
With postspiracular hood-like projection occurs at the base of the abdomen.
Abdomen tympanum description:
Thorax tympanum description:
Metathoracic horizontal tympanum present.
Adult Head Morphology
Number of labial palp segments:
Labial palpus modification:
Also, vestigial. Much sexual dimorphism can be observed.
Number of maxillary palp segments:
Number of chaetosomata:
present, absent, reduced
Length of proboscis (mm):
Fluted sensilla styloconia on proboscis:
Variable, if maxillary palpi are present they are very small.
Head vertex scaling:
Female pedicel description:
Female scape description:
Female flagellomere description:
Male scape description:
Male pedicel description:
Male flagellomere description:
Antennal sensillum present
General antennae description:
The male antennae are bipectinate and the female antennae are usually weakly bipectinate or simple.
Adult head description:
Well developed ocelli are relatively uncommon in the family but is a synapomorphy for the Dudusinae. The frons of some adult Notodontidae protrudes and is heavily sclerotized, often with sharp anterior projections or teeth.
Adults often highly cryptic, forewing in many species with a “tooth” or “prominence” along anal margin; larval head usually much wider than thorax; larva frequently with A10 prolegs reduced, held aloft and not used for walking.
Life History and Behavior
Although Notodontidae are an important component of some moth communities, especially in lowland tropical forests, almost nothing is known about their adult behavior. Females are usually heavy-bodied and do not seem to stray far from their host plant. Perhaps because notodontids are rarely plant pests, their pheromones have not been isolated and their mating behavior has gone essentially unstudied. Males of most species possess highly developed coremata on their genitalia, termed the Barth Organ (Barth, 1955; Weller, 1992). While these are undoubtedly important during courtship, their use has never been documented in nature. Females of some species, particularly in the Thaumetopoeinae and Dioptinae, posses a corethrogyne, comprising a mass of deciduous scales on abdominal segment 7 that are pasted to the surface of the eggs as these are being laid. The corethrogyne is thought to protect the eggs from predators and parasites. Many adult notodontids possess prominent tufts on their head, thorax, wings, or abdomen (see Schintlmeister, 2008). These make the moths incredibly cryptic, causing it to bear remarkable resemblance to a stick or small twig when at rest.
Life History: Immature Stages
Life History: Adults
In most subfamilies of the Notodontidae, adults have rarely been observed feeding or visiting flowers. Those with a reduced haustellum (mostly subfamily Notodontinae) do not feed, but probably imbibe water opportunistically. The notodontine genus Gluphisia has been shown to use its small proboscis as a filter, sucking up huge quantities of water from puddles to obtain sodium (Smedley and Eisner, 1995). Species of Euchontha, in the subfamily Dioptinae, are frequently observed puddling (Miller, 2009), also apparently to acquire sodium. These moths often appear amongst huge congregations of puddling butterflies. Dioptines, most of which are diurnal, are atypical in that adults are often seen feeding on nectar [see whole organism image gallery].
Life history adult:
The vast majority of notodontid species are nocturnal and are strongly attracted to lights. In nocturnal forms their metathoracic hearing organ can supposedly detect bat cries (Fullard et al., 2000), whereas in Dioptinae tympanal function seems to have become co-opted for detecting intraspecific sounds produced by a stridulatory organ on the male forewing (Miller, 2009). Little is known regarding the life span of adult Notodontidae.
Life cycle description:
Eggs of Notodontidae are hemispherical or spherical, weakly sculptured, and the micropyle opens dorsally. They are usually deposited singly, but in some taxa are laid in tight masses. Notodontid larvae are well adapted to an arboreal habit, but are generally not capable of rapid locomotion (Ferguson, 1963). Caterpillars of most species possess a prothoracic cervical gland that opens midventrally. This gland is defensive and is capable of spraying formic acid, sometimes for fairly long distances. In the vast majority of Notodontidae, the A10 larval prolegs are reduced and are held aloft. In certain genera, the A10 prolegs are developed into long, whip-like structures called stemapods. Most species pass through five or six larval instars, but members of the tribe Josiini (Dioptinae) are unique in having only four. Caterpillars of the Dicranurinae (formerly Heterocampinae) undergo remarkable changes during development. For example, first instars of Heterocampa bear huge, antler-like structures on the prothorax (Packard, 1895); these are lost in subsequent instars. Pupae are usually formed in an earthen cell or in a cocoon, often in leaf litter. The often colorful pupae of Dioptinae are unusual in being suspended by the cremaster from a plant leaf, in the exposed manner typical of butterflies.
Evolution and Systematics
Systematic and taxonomic history
The Notodontidae was treated as a separate superfamily, the Notodontoidea, by some previous authors (d’Almeida, 1932; Kiriakoff, 1970a, 1970b; Pinhey, 1975; Common, 1979; Tikhomirov, 1981; Barlow, 1982). However, more recently it is considered a noctuoid family, sister to the Doidae, with Doidae + Notodontidae being the sister clade to the remaining noctuoid families (Mitchell et al., 2006; Fibiger and Lafontaine 2005; Lafontaine and Fibiger, 2006). Thaumetopoeidae, Dioptidae, and Thyretidae have either been treated as separate families, or have been included within either the Notodontidae or Notodontoidea (Kiriakoff, 1963). However, Thyretidae are now a tribe placed within the Arctiidae (Jacobson and Weller, 2002), and the remaining two are notodontid subfamilies (Kitching and Rawlins, 1999). Druce (1897) was the first to classify the world Notodontidae. He divided the family into three families: Ptilodontidae, Melalophidae (= Pygaerinae), and Eupterotidae (= Apatelodidae) (Miller, 1991). Presently, the Apatelodidae is considered to be a family in the Bombycoidea (Forbes, 1939a; Franclemont, 1983). Other workers have treated portions of the notodontid fauna on a regional basis, generating generic and species diagnoses, keys, and checklists (e.g., Druce, 1887; Schaus, 1901; Draudt, 1932; Forbes, 1948; Franclemont, 1983; Godfrey and Appleby, 1987). The first cladistic analysis of notodontid genera was published by Weller (1989). That study focused on the evolutionary relationships of genera in the Neotropical tribe Nystaleini. Cladistic studies based on morphological characters support a monophyletic Notodontidae (Miller, 1991). Presently, 9 subfamilies are recognized: Thaumetopoeinae, Pygaerinae, Platychasmatinae, Notodontinae, Phalerinae, Dudusinae, Heterocampinae, Nystaleinae, and Dioptinae (see Miller 1991 for subfamily descriptions). A key to all Noctuoidea families with trifid forewing venation is provided by Miller (1991).
One fossil genus known, Cerurites, described by Kernbach in 1967. Type specimens are in Germany (Willershausen).
Discussion of Phylogenetic Relationships
Molecular Biology and Genetics
Statistics of barcoding coverage
Specimens with Sequences:29913
Specimens with Barcodes:28590
Species With Barcodes:1833
Notodontidae is a family of moths with approximately 3,800 known species. Moths of this family are found in all parts of the world, but they are most concentrated in tropical areas, especially in the New World (Miller, 1992). The Thaumetopoeidae (processionary moths) are sometimes included here as a subfamily.
Species of this family tend to be heavy-bodied and long-winged, the wings held folded across the back of the body at rest. They rarely display any bright colours, usually being mainly grey or brown, with the exception of the Dioptinae subfamily (Grimaldi and Engel, 2005). These features mean they rather resemble Noctuidae although the families are not closely related. The adults do not feed. Many species have a tuft of hair on the trailing edge of the forewing which protrudes upwards at rest. This gives them the common name of prominents. The common names of some other species reflect their hairiness, such as Puss Moth and the group commonly known as kittens (Furcula spp.), so named as they resemble small versions of the Puss Moth.
The egg is hemisperical or almost spherical, and lacks any ribs (Scoble, 1995).
The caterpillars are usually hairless, but may have tubercules, spines, or humps (Scoble 1995), and often rest with both ends raised. The last set of prolegs is frequently vestigial, or may be long, with glands that can be everted. Some larvae undergo shape modification and colour changes with each instar (Weller, 1992). Notodontid larvae are notable for their often bizarre shapes, and some have chemical defenses (cyanic acid, formic acid, and other ketones: Blum, 1981) not commonly found in other Lepidoptera (Weller 1992). Schizura unicornis and S. badia have a mixture of formic acid, acetic acid and other compounds which they spray accurately at their attacker (Attygalle et al., 1993).
The larvae of some species are truly extraordinary: That of the Puss Moth has a fearsome-looking "face" and two long whip-like "tails" (actually highly modified prolegs) and it rears both ends in a threatening display when disturbed. The larva of the Lobster Moth is even more remarkable, resembling a crustacean. Others, such as Cerura vinula mimic the edge of a leaf that has been damaged and is turning brown (they rest and feed along the edge of the leaf).
Most are solitary feeders, but some are gregarious, and this is most common in the processionary moths, Thaumetopoeinae.
They feed on trees and shrubs, except in the subfamily Dioptinae, which feed on herbaceous plants (Miller, 1992). The larvae typically feed on only one family of trees, but closely related species will feed on distantly related plants; for example different members of the genus Datana feed on Juglandaceae, Hamamelidaceae, Ericaceae and Anacardiaceae (Miller 1992).
Adults have tympanal organs on the metathorax that opens towards the top, and the tibial spurs have serrated edges (Scoble, 1995). Mouthparts vary from well-developed to absent. The Dioptinae, which was formerly considered a separate family, are colourful and fly by day, while the rest of the notodontids are nocturnal. Some of these Dioptinae have non-functional tympanal hearing organs which are normally defensive against bats (Fullard et al., 1997).
Some notodontids cause noticeable defoliation of their hosts. Well-known defoliators include: the saddled prominent Heterocampa guttivita, poplar defoliator Clostera cupreata, California oakworm Phryganidia californica, the beech caterpillar, Quadricalcarifera punctatella, variable oakleaf caterpillar Lochmaeus manteo, Epicerura pergisea, yellownecked caterpillars Datana ministra, and walnut caterpillar Datana integerrima, among others.
Notable species are:
- Buff-tip (Phalera bucephala)
- Puss Moth (Cerura vinula)
- Lobster Moth (Stauropus fagi)
- Poplar Kitten (Furcula bifida)
- Coxcomb Prominent (Ptilodon capucina)
- Rough Prominent (Nadata gibbosa)
Apart from the subfamilies listed above, there are numerous notodontid genera of uncertain relationships. These are:
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Notodontidae.|
- Attygalle, AB, S. Smedley, J. Meinwald and T. Eisner. 1993. Defensive secretion of 2 notodontid caterpillars. J. Chem Ecol 19(10):2089-2104.
- Blum, M.S. 1981. Chemical Defenses of Arthropods. Academic Press, New York.
- Chinery, Michael. 1991. Collins Guide to the Insects of Britain and Western Europe 1986 (Reprinted 1991)
- Fullard, James, Jeff W. Dawson, L. Daniel Otero, Annemarie Surlykke. 1997. Bat-deafness in day-flying moths (Lepidoptera, Notodontidae, Dioptinae). Journal of Comparative Physiology A: Neuroethology, Sensory, Neural, and Behavioral Physiology 181(5): 477-483
- Grimaldi, D, and MS Engel, 2005. Evolution of the Insects. Cambridge University Press.
- Miller, James. 1992. Host-plant association among prominent moths. BioScience 42 (1): 50-56.
- Scoble, MJ. 1995. The Lepidoptera: Form, Function and Diversity. Second ed. Oxford University Press.
- Skinner, Bernard. 1984. Colour Identification Guide to Moths of the British Isles
- Weller, SJ. 1992. Survey of Adult Morphology in Nystaleinae and Related Neotropical Subfamilies (Noctuoidea: Notodontidae). Journal of Research on the Lepidoptera 31(3-4):233-277.
- van Nieukerken et al. (2011). "Order Lepidoptera Linnaeus, 1758. In: Zhang, Z.-Q. (Ed.) Animal biodiversity: An outline of higher-level classification and survey of taxonomic richness". Zootaxa 3148: 212–221.
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