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Title: Noctuidae  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
Language: English
Subject: Noctuoidea, Abrostola anophioides, Helicoverpa assulta, Helicoverpa atacamae, Helicoverpa fletcheri
Collection: Moth Families, Noctuidae, Noctuoidea
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia


The Noctuidae or owlet moths are a family of robustly built moths that includes more than 35,000 known species out of possibly 100,000 total, in more than 4,200 genera. They constitute the largest family in the Lepidoptera.

Their distribution is worldwide, with about 1,450 species found in Europe.[1][2][3]

Most have drab forewings, although some have brightly coloured hindwings. Differences between the sexes are usually few. The overwhelming majority of noctuids fly at night and are almost invariably strongly attracted to light. Many are also attracted to sugar and nectar-rich flowers.

Some of the family are preyed upon by bats. However, many Noctuidae species have tiny organs in their ears that respond to bat echolocation calls, sending their wing muscles into spasm and causing the moths to dart erratically. This aids the moths in evading the bats.[4][5][6][7]

Several species have larvae (caterpillars) that live in the soil and are agricultural or horticultural pests. These are the "cutworms" that eat the bases of young brassicas and lettuces. They form hard, shiny pupae. Most noctuid larvae feed at night, resting in the soil or in a crevice in its food plant during the day.

The Noctuidae are also remarkable for containing an extraordinary number of species whose caterpillars are able to feed on certain poisonous plants without harm. These foodplants — namely Solanaceae (e.g., Nicotiana) and Fabaceae (e.g., Sophora) — contain chemicals that would kill most insects trying to feed on them.


  • Systematics 1
    • Example species 1.1
  • References 2
  • External links 3


Division into subfamilies, and the number of subfamilies is unsatisfactory and varies somewhat in various taxonomical systems. Several moth genera are not yet robustly assigned to subfamilies:

Recent molecular studies,[8][9] however, have shown that the family Noctuidae is paraphyletic. The subfamily Plusiinae should be raised to family status. The Noctuidae sensu stricto should be confined to trifines. The quadrifid noctuid subfamilies are paraphyletic (or perhaps polyphyletic) and should be grouped in a clade with the Arctiidae and Lymantriidae. The terms trifid and quadrifid refer to the number of veins from the lower part of the hindwing midcell.

Example species






Noctuid in a farm field



Additional examples:


  1. ^ Fibiger, M., 1990. Noctuinae 1. - Noctuidae Europaeae 1, Sorø, Denmark
  2. ^ Fibiger, M., 1993. Noctuinae 2. - Noctuidae Europaeae 2, Sorø, Denmark
  3. ^ Fibiger, M., 1997. Noctuinae 3. - Noctuidae Europaeae 3, Sorø, Denmark.
  4. ^ Roeder, K.D. (1974). Acoustic sensory responses and possible bat-evasion tactics of certain moths. Proc. Canadian Society of Zoologists’ Annual Meeting M.D.B. Burt, ed. (Fredericton: University of New Brunswick Press), pp. 71–78.
  5. ^ Surlykke, A (1984). "Hearing in Notodontid moths: A tympanic organ with a single auditory neuron". J. Exp. Biol 113: 323–335. 
  6. ^ Ratcliffe, J.M.; Fullard, J.H.; Arthur, B.J.; Hoy, R.R. (2009). "Tiger moths and the threat of bats: decision-making based on the activity of a single sensory neuron". Biol. Lett. 5: 368–371.  
  7. ^ Goerlitz, Holger R.; Hannah; Zeale, Matt R.K.; Jones, Gareth; Holderied, Marc W. (2010). "An Aerial-Hawking Bat Uses Stealth Echolocation to Counter Moth Hearing". Current Biology 20: 1568–1572.  
  8. ^ Weller, S. J., Pashley, D. P., Martin, J. A., and Constable, J. L. (1994). "Phylogeny of noctuoid moths and the utility of combining independent nuclear and mitochondrial genes". Systematic Biology 43 (43): 194–211.  
  9. ^ Andrew Mitchell, Charles Mitter, Jerome C. Regier (2006). "Systematics and evolution of the cutworm moths (Lepidoptera: Noctuidae): evidence from two protein-coding nuclear genes". Systematic Entomology 31 (1): 21–46.  

External links

On the UF / IFAS Featured Creatures Web site:

  • , black cutwormAgrotis ipsilon
  • , velvetbean caterpillarAnticarsia gemmatalis
  • , hieroglyphic mothDiphthera festiva
  • , cabbage palm caterpillarLitoprosopus futilis
  • Pseudaletia unipuncta
  • , southern armywormSpodoptera eridania
  • , fall armywormSpodoptera frugiperda
  • , Yellowstriped ArmywormSpodoptera ornithogalli
  • , Spanish moth or convict caterpillarXanthopastis timais
  • Large Yellow Underwing Noctua pronuba
  • Family Noctuidae at
  • Images of Noctuidae species in New Zealand
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