Pink Underwing Moth: Key Facts and Insights for Enthusiasts

The pink underwing moth is a fascinating and unique species that’s sure to capture the attention of nature enthusiasts and amateur entomologists alike. Known for their striking coloration and intriguing patterns, these moths may not be as common as their more drab counterparts, but they are no less worthy of our interest.

Found throughout various parts of the world, the pink underwing moth has been identified in numerous species. Alongside the well-known Southern Pink Moth, several species within the genus Catocala also bear this distinct coloring. These moths are appreciated not just for their appearance, but also for the vital role they play in their ecosystems as pollinators.

Identification and Taxonomy

Phyllodes Imperialis

Phyllodes Imperialis is a large and colorful species of moth in the Lepidoptera family. It has a distinct pink underwing, setting it apart from other moths. Key features include:

  • Bright pink underwing
  • Large size
  • Attractive coloration

Catocala

Catocala is a genus of underwing moths known for their dull-colored forewings and vibrant hindwings. Some species, like Catocala ilia, Catocala cara, and Catocala palaeogama, display pink underwings. Characteristics of Catocala moths include:

  • Dull forewings
  • Brightly colored hindwings
  • Mimicry of tree bark patterns

Erebidae

Erebidae is a large family of moths within the Lepidoptera order. It contains several subfamilies, including the Phyllodes Imperialis and Catocala genera.

Scientific Name

Common Name Genus Species Subspecies
Southern Pink Underwing Moth Pyrausta inornatalis
Phyllodes Imperialis Phyllodes imperialis smithersi
Beloved Underwing Moth Catocala ilia
Darling Underwing Moth Catocala cara
Oldwife Underwing Moth Catocala palaeogama

Morphology and Appearance

Forewings and Hindwings

The pink underwing moth is an interesting and unique species. Its forewings are characterized by a mottled pattern that helps it blend into its surroundings, while the hindwings display a vibrant pink coloration, making it stand out when in flight.

Caterpillar and Larva

The pink underwing moth begins its life as a caterpillar. Some features of these caterpillars are:

  • Unique abdominal prolegs
  • Similar appearance to other species, such as marbled underwing and precious underwing

As larvae, they partake in important biological processes, eventually developing into adult moths.

Male and Female Differences

Male and female pink underwing moths show some differences in their appearance and behavior. Some distinctions include:

  • Males tend to have larger wingspans
  • Females exhibit more robust body shapes

Comparison of male and female pink underwing moths:

Feature Male Female
Wingspan Larger Smaller
Body Shape Slender Robust

The pink underwing is closely related to other species, such as owlet moths and cutworms. By understanding their morphology and appearance, we can better appreciate these fascinating creatures.

Habitat and Geographic Distribution

Rainforests

The pink underwing moth, specifically the Phyllodes imperialis, is commonly found in rainforests. It relies on the rainforest vine Carronia multisepalea, also known as the Carronia vine, as its main habitat and ecology. Some notable features of their rainforest habitat include:

  • High humidity
  • Dense foliage
  • Abundance of Carronia vine

Queensland

In Queensland, the pink underwing moth thrives in subtropical rainforests. These rainforests are rich in native plants like Syzygium species, which contribute to the moth’s habitat and ecology. Key characteristics of Queensland’s subtropical rainforests include:

  • High levels of biodiversity
  • Warm, moist climate
  • Presence of various Syzygium species

North America

Though not native to North America, the Southern Pink Moth can be found in the southeast and parts of Southern California. While its habitat differs from the pink underwing moth’s rainforest preference, it shares a similar preference for humid environments.

Comparison Table:

Habitat Pink Underwing Moth Southern Pink Moth
Rainforests Yes, specifically in vines No
Subtropical Rainforests Yes No
North America No Yes, in scattered areas
Preferred Native Plants Carronia vine, Syzygium Not specified
Sensitivity to Habitat Change Vulnerable in Queensland Not well-studied

Ecology and Behavior

Nocturnal Habits

Underwing moths, including the pink underwing moth (Catocala), are primarily nocturnal creatures. They become active at dusk and spend their nights:

  • Searching for food
  • Mating
  • Avoiding predators

Feeding

The primary food source for underwing moths is the nectar of various flowering plants. Some common food plants for the Catocala include:

  • Carronia vine
  • Salvia plants
  • Other flowering shrubs and trees

In terms of feeding habits, underwing moths are known for their distinctive fluttering movements while searching for food and pollinating plants.

Breeding and Reproduction

During the breeding season, underwing moths exhibit unique behaviors:

  • Males emit a “horn” sound to attract females
  • Females release pheromones, signaling their readiness for mating

After mating, females deposit eggs on the leaves or bark of the host food plant. The eggs hatch into larvae, which feed on leaves until they pupate and mature into adult moths.

Habitats

Underwing moths inhabit various ecosystems, such as:

  • Forests
  • Wetlands
  • Grasslands

Their ability to blend into tree bark is a key adaptation for their survival. However, some subspecies like the Catocala ilia, are identified as endangered due to habitat loss.

Feature Underwing Moths Other Moths
Activity Time Nocturnal (Dusk) Nocturnal or Diurnal
Primary Food Source Nectar Nectar, Plant Material, or Animal Matter
Predators Bats, Birds, Invertebrates Bats, Birds, Invertebrates
Reproduction Mating calls and pheromones Mating calls, pheromones, or visual cues

Characteristics of underwing moths:

  • Brightly colored hindwings with bold patterns
  • Dull forewings that resemble tree bark
  • Nocturnal habits, active at dusk
  • Predominantly nectar-feeding

Plant Interactions and Conservation

Food Plants and Associations

The pink underwing moth, specifically species like Catocala cara, Catocala junctura, and Catocala palaeogama, interact with various food plants. Some common food plants for these species include:

  • Birch
  • Oak
  • Willows

Rainforest specialists, like the Richmond Birdwing Butterfly, also have specific associations with food plants. One such example is the relationship they have with Syzygium species and shrubs. In some cases, the moths lay their eggs on the petiole of dioecious plants to provide food for their larvae.

Conservation Efforts and Challenges

Conservation efforts have been made in recent years to protect pink underwing moths and their habitats by organizations like Back from the Brink. Dr. Don Sands, a lepidopterist, and other researchers have developed methods to help conserve these moths, such as using stem cuttings to propagate the necessary food plants. Additionally, programs like “Land for Wildlife” work to support conservation efforts by providing land and resources for habitat restoration.

However, there are challenges faced in conserving pink underwing moths, such as their conservation status and the difficulty of accurately identifying some species. A comparison table of two closely related species, Catocala cara and Catocala junctura, can help illustrate these challenges:

Feature Catocala cara Catocala junctura
Habitat Deciduous forests Deciduous forests
Wing pattern Wavy lines on forewings Wavy lines on forewings
Hindwing color Bright orange or red Reddish or pinkish

Understanding these challenges and continuing research and conservation efforts will help protect the pink underwing moth and its complex interactions with the environment.

Human Interaction and Education

Community Projects and Collaborations

Local councils and private landholders collaborate with organizations to help conserve species like the Carronia multisepalea, or the southern pink underwing moth. One example is the cooperation with Natura Pacific for preserving the moth’s foodplant, which both male and female vines need for survival.

  • Rich community involvement
  • Protecting breeding spots

Natura Pacific and Scientific Research

Natura Pacific is an environmental consulting organization that works closely with experts like Dr. Don Sands and Dr. Bonni Yee to study southern pink underwing moths. They aim to conserve existing populations and restore their natural habitats.

  • Species research and monitoring
  • Habitat restoration efforts

Comparison of Moth Species

Species Characteristics Habitat Conservation Status
Carronia multisepalea Southern pink underwing moth Eastern Australia Threatened
C. palaeogama Oldwife underwing Eastern United States Stable
C. ilia Beloved underwing United States Stable

Pros and Cons of Conservation Methods

  • Pros
    • Increased awareness of threatened species
    • Habitat restoration for various species such as Carronia multisepalea and the Richmond birdwing
  • Cons
    • Time-consuming research and monitoring
    • Costs and resource allocation for project coordination

Reader Emails

Over the years, our website, whatsthatbug.com has received hundreds of letters and some interesting images asking us about these insects. Scroll down to have a look at some of them.

Letter 1 – Underwing Moth

 

What kind of moth is this!
Hi I recently was yard working late in the evening and found this critter on my cement blocks! Had to take a picture never seen a moth with these colours almost likes its half butterfly half moth! Anyway I’m writting you from the City of Bathurst in the province of New Brunswick, Canada. Very impressed with your web site.
Line

Hi Line,
This is an Underwing Moth in the genus Catocala.

Letter 2 – Underwing

 

Two differnt butterflies
Location: eastern, canada
September 24, 2011 8:26 am
There is two different type of butterflies and I don’t know what is type is.
Signature: M.o

Underwing

Dear M.o,
You have mistaken an Underwing Moth in the genus
Catocala for a butterfly.  Underwing Moths usually have forewings that are patterned like tree bark.  When the Underwing Moth rests on the trunk of a tree, it is perfectly camouflaged, and when it flies, its brightly colored underwings present a flashy appearance.  A predator will be fooled once a flying moth comes to rest hiding the brightly colored underwings.  Your other butterfly is a Red Admiral.

Letter 3 – Underwing

 

Underwing Moth resting on mossy bark
Location: SE Michigan
September 24, 2011 6:52 pm
Hello, Bugman: Spotted this large underwing moth flying around eratically during the afternoon; was surprised both by it’s size and that it was flying during a sunny afternoon. Not sure which of the many kinds of Underwings this one is, but it was about 2.5 inches across. It landed on a tree, hoping to ”blend-in” with it’s cryptic patterning. I was able to get 2 nice close-ups, before it fluttered away. Thought you might like to add this shot to your Underwing info.
Signature: Chris O.

Underwing

Hi Chris,
Thanks so much for sending your photo of an Underwing Moth.  We posted another photo earlier today and we wrote about the camouflage ability of the Underwing Moths.  Though your mossy trunk does not effectively hide this individual, our readers should be able to imagine it blending in on a lighter barked tree.  While we don’t believe the Underwing has the ability to choose a tree that will effectively hide it, we do believe that those moths that blend into the trees in a specific area will survive and then subsequently pass on the traits that determine their coloration to their offspring.  Your description of the Underwing flying during daylight hours is very accurate.

Letter 4 – Underwing

 

Subject: what is this insect
Location: California
October 10, 2012 8:31 pm
so i got this insect here in California in a park i am not pretty sure what it is called but i need to know its name for my insect collection project for my little nephew
Signature: Me

Underwing

Dear Me,
Though you did not provide much information, we want to inform you that it is illegal to collect insects in state parks without a permit.  This appears to be some species of Underwing Moth, possibly in the genus
Catocala, but we are not familiar with the ventral markings to be able to provide more than that.

Letter 5 – Underwing

 

Subject: Confused About This Moth
Location: Northeast Ohio
August 15, 2016 3:56 pm
Hi! My son found this large moth in our yard, and all of our research indicates that it is Orange Underwing Moth, but that same research places this species in the UK, and we’re in Northeast, Ohio.
Can you help us ID it? Thank you!
Signature: Colleen

Underwing
Underwing

Hi Colleen,
Your Underwing is in the genus
Catocala, a large genus with many similar looking species.  We believe it might be a Sweetheart Underwing, Catocala amatrix, based on this BugGuide image.  According to BugGuide:  “larvae feed on leaves of several species of poplar (Populus spp.) and Black Willow (Salix nigra).”

Letter 6 – Underwing

 

Subject: Underwing moth?
Location: Mayfield, KY
June 7, 2017 11:29 am
I have been trying to identify this moth for some time now. The closest match I have found in my book is a Widow Underwing. This was found in Western Kentucky in May.
Signature: Janet Fox

Underwing

Dear Janet,
We agree that this appears to be an Underwing in the genus
Catocala, but we do not have the necessary skills to provide a definitive species identification for you.  According to BugGuide:  “Lafontaine & Schmidt (2010) listed 101 species of the genus Catocala in America north of Mexico. Powell & Opler (2009) reported 110 species in all of North America, and about 230 worldwide.”  Many of those species look quite similar.

Letter 7 – Underwing from Fiji

 

Moth in Fiji
Hello, we saw this moth on the door when we returned to our Fijian bure
(thatched hut!) at night. Can you identify it please?
Thanks, Sarah
uk

Hi Sarah,
Tropical species are not our forte, but your moth bears a resemblance to a genus we have, Catocala, known as the Underwing Moths. These moths generally have drably colored upper wings and gaudily colored underwings. They are nocturnal and rest during they day on trees and similar places where they are well camouflaged. If startled into flight, they attract attention, and the pursuer, a bird or other predator, will be looking for the colorful tasty treat, but when the moth lands, it once again blends in.

Letter 8 – Underwing Moth

 

What is this?

At well over 5 megabytes, this is the largest photo with the shortest, most terse demand we have ever received. Three words with a questionmark in the subject heading isn’t our idea of a letter. This is an Underwing Moth in the genus Catocala. Moths in this genus often have brightly colored underwings and drab forewings that often blend into the patterns of tree bark. The idea is that when the moth is flying, the predator will hunt out the bright colors, but when the moth comes to rest, it seems to disappear.

Letter 9 – Underwing Moth

 

Underwing moth
Hello,
We found this moth in our backyard in Austin, Texas. We think it is an underwing moth but aren’t sure which one. Can you help?
Thanks!
The Stences

Hi Stences,
You are correct. This is an Underwing Moth in the genus Catocala. There are so many similar looking species it would take an expert to give you a definitive species identification, and even then, it might require the specimen. We will ask around for a second opinion. We were directed to contact Edward Knudson, an expert in this genus and here is his response: “The Underwing moth from Austin, TX is Catocala ilia, one of the most common of the 60 or so species in Texas. The larvae feed on Oaks. Ed”

Letter 10 – Underwing Moth

 

what is this?
I took this picture during the summertime in upstate New York. Since then I have tried to identify this moth but I cannot find it anywhere, and my eyes are going “buggy” from looking at so many pictures trying to ID it. Could you please tell me what it is? Sorry I didn’t get any pictures of the backside of its wings, but I was trying to get as many shots as I could without disturbing it. Thanks in advance.
Carrie

Hi Carrie,
This is some species of Underwing Moth in the genus Catocala.

Letter 11 – Underwing Moth

 

I think it’s a Sphinx, my wife doesn’t…
We saw this last night near Syracuse NY. I couldn’t manage to get a picture with the wings open, it was moving too fast. The upper surface of the hindwing had some nice color (you can just see a little bit in the first photo) but I don’t remember seeing any eyespots – but it was moving pretty fast… The lower surfaces of both wings had the black-and-tan banding that you can see in the second photo. I assume from the antennae that this is a female. I’ve been doing some web surfing but haven’t found any pictures that look like a close match. So what is it?
Dr. Kurt Hillig

Hi Dr. Hillig,
This is one of the Underwing Moths in the genus Catocala. They often have very brightly colored underwings that flash when they fly, and then when they land, they are camouflaged to look like tree bark so they seem to disappear. This is just one of the many wonders of evolutionary protective coloration evident in the animal kingdom.

Thanks! But it looks like I lose the bet…

Update: (09/10/2006) Underwing
Bugman,
I think the Underwing pictures you recieved recently from Syracuse are of The Penitent Underwing – Catocala piatrix..
Philip Chaon

Letter 12 – Underwing Moth

 

identifying a moth
Hi: Love your site..Could you please help me identify this moth that I found in my sink a couple of nights ago….Thank you for your help.
Aline Winje,
Slocan, British Columbia

Hi Aline,
This is an Underwing Moth in the genus Catocala, but we can’t identify the exact species.

Letter 13 – Underwing Moth

 

Hello!
What fun to look at all of the moths! This one was flying around our upstairs room in October. It was large enough that I thought, from its shadow, it might be a bat. Then I saw the beautiful coloring when it spread its wings. We had to hold it in a glass to get the photo. Its back was a rather beautiful brown pattern, but the red was astonishing. We happily set it free, again. Can you tell me what it is? Thanks!
Marjorie

Hi Marjorie,
This beauty is an Underwing Moth in the genus Catocala.

Letter 14 – Underwing Moth

 

Subject: Some kind of moth?
Location: North shore of Lake Erie
September 11, 2013 2:17 pm
Wondering what it is. Love it’s camouflage!
Signature: BeeJay

Underwing Moth
Underwing Moth

Dear BeeJay,
While this Underwing Moth in the genus Catocala stands out against the painted blue wall, if it had landed on a tree trunk, it would be nearly invisible like this Walnut Underwing on a carob tree at our Mount Washington, Los Angeles office.  The camouflage you mentioned is even more pronounced if you consider the coloration of the moth’s underwings, which are often brightly colored like this Underwing.  When the moth is startled and takes flight, the bright colors are quite noticeable, and a predator, like a bird, would be searching for those colors and overlook the Underwing once it lands again on a matching trunk.

 

Letter 15 – Underwing Moth

 

Subject: confused
Location: New york
August 18, 2014 5:13 am
I found caught and let go of this bug im trying to know if its a moth or butterfly we live in newyork in a basic apartment and it never wanted to leave i kept it in a cup then i let it go out the window and IT KEPT COMING BACK!!!!!
Signature: Harley Quinn

Underwing Moth
Underwing Moth

Dear Harley,
This gorgeous moth is an Underwing Moth in the genus
Catocala, but we are uncertain of the species.  This is a large genus, and according to bugGuide:  “Lafontaine & Schmidt (2010) listed 101 species of the genus Catocala in America north of Mexico. Powell & Opler (2009) reported 110 species in all of North America.”  The common name Underwing is derived from the contrasting and often brightly colored underwings that are generally hidden when the moth is resting.  They flash when the moth is in flight, causing a predator to search for a colorful prey, but while the moth is resting camouflaged on a tree trunk, it eludes its hunter and avoids getting eaten.  You didn’t indicate if this sighting was during the day or at night.  Underwings are often attracted to lights at night.

Underwing Moth
Underwing Moth

Letter 16 – Underwing Moth

 

Subject: Bark-colored Moth
Location: Baton Rouge, Louisiana, USA
May 31, 2015 12:04 pm
Hello,
Nice bark-camouflaged moth with some color. I couldn’t find a comparable one on your site. Taken during the day, resting under a porch light. May 2015. Recognize it?
Signature: A Fan

Underwing Moth
Underwing Moth

Dear A Fan,
Your pretty moth is an Underwing Moth in the genus
Catocala, and though we are not able to provide you with a definite species name, we believe it may be Catocala ilia.  We just took an image of a Walnut Underwing at our Mount Washington, Los Angeles offices, but unlike your image, we did not capture a flash of the brightly colored underwings.  As you have noted, the upper wings of an Underwing Moth are an effective bark camouflage, and the flashing red and black insect appears to vanish when the Underwing lands on the trunk of a tree.

Thanks for the genus name! I know the calos part comes from Greek, kalos (beautiful). I like the way it just sat there quietly. I assume it just rests during part of the day and is active at night.

Thanks for the etymology lesson.  The Underwings are nocturnal, and they are frequently attracted to lights.  If they are disturbed during the day, they will fly, which is why we explained about the brightly colored wings distracting the predator, who continues to search for a morsel of that color when in fact the Underwing has blended with its background once it has landed on a tree trunk or other concealing facade.

Letter 17 – Underwing Moth

 

Subject: Bark colored moth
Location: Fair Harbor, Fire Island, New York
July 27, 2015 5:37 am
I’ve seen a few of these medium sized moths in Fire Island, NY. They stay on our cedar shingled house during the day unless disturbed.
Signature: Alison Sazinger

Underwing Moth
Underwing Moth

Dear Alison,
This is some species of Underwing Moth in the genus
Catocala.  Just last night, we posted a few images taken at our own porch light of a Walnut Underwing that visited our porch light.  We are not certain of your species.  According to BugGuide:  “Lafontaine & Schmidt (2010) listed 101 species of the genus Catocala in America north of Mexico.  Powell & Opler (2009) reported 110 species in all of North America, and about 230 worldwide. ”  The common name Underwing refers to the brightly colored underwings which are hidden when the moth is resting.  The upper wings of Underwing moths blend in perfectly with tree bark when the moth is resting, and a burst of color results when the disturbed moth takes flight.  A predator continues to search for the bright colors and easily overlooks the camouflaged moth.

Thank you for responding h so fast. I’ve never noticed them here before and now they seem common. When it flew I only saw dark brown.
Is the bright park on the dorsal side?
I’ll google the genus.
Thanks!
Alison Salzinger

Letter 18 – Underwing Moth

 

Subject: Brown Moth
Location: Walkerton, Indiana
August 28, 2015 3:53 pm
I was out cleaning up brush around the house and I saw this moth sitting on my porch steps. Not sure what kind it is, but it is a nice looking one.
Signature: Edward

Underwing Moth
Underwing Moth

Dear Edward,
This Underwing Moth in the genus
Catocala is a masterful example of camouflage.  The underwings are often brightly colored red, pink or orange with black stripes, but they are hidden when the moth rests, often on a tree trunk where it blends in perfectly with the bark.

Letter 19 – Underwing Moth

 

Subject: Awesome moth
Location: Hudson valley New York
September 15, 2015 5:06 pm
Saw this red butterfly fly past me and land and I noticed it didn’t land like a normal butterfly and upon further inspection it wasn’t a butterfly at all or red. It was an all como’d out moth. Please identify this for me it really took me by surprise and really intrigued me.
Signature: Stephen bock

Underwing Moth
Underwing Moth

Dear Stephen,
You are correct that this is a moth.  Underwing Moths in the genus
Catocala often have brightly colored underwings in alternating stripes of red, pink or orange and black.  The brightly colored underwings are revealed in flight, but when the moth lands, the bark-mimic upper wings blend in with tree trunks, effectively camouflaging the Underwing Moth from predators who are searching for brightly colored prey.

Authors

    by
  • Bugman

    Bugman aka Daniel Marlos has been identifying bugs since 1999. whatsthatbug.com is his passion project and it has helped millions of readers identify the bug that has been bugging them for over two decades. You can reach out to him through our Contact Page.

  • Piyushi Dhir

    Piyushi is a nature lover, blogger and traveler at heart. She lives in beautiful Canada with her family. Piyushi is an animal lover and loves to write about all creatures.

11 thoughts on “Pink Underwing Moth: Key Facts and Insights for Enthusiasts”

  1. I’m sad to know that my visitor is not related to Godzilla, but happy to find out that it is an Underwing Caterpillar. I hope I recognize him/her when he gets his wings.
    Thank you.

    Reply
  2. I’m sad to know that my visitor is not related to Godzilla, but happy to find out that it is an Underwing Caterpillar. I hope I recognize him/her when he gets his wings.
    Thank you.

    Reply
    • Many Underwings have brightly colored underwings that are hidden beneath the forewings when the moth is a rest. The forewings are often brown or gray with markings that resemble bark, enabling the moth to disappear into a camouflaged background when at rest.

      Reply
  3. I had one of these Underwing moths’ on my deck this morning. Didn’t know what it was, thanks for your website, I found out. Shoshone, Idaho.

    Reply
  4. I found a Underwing moth on my deck this morning, Aug. 3rd 2017, Shoshone, Idaho.
    Didn’t know what it was, thanks to your website, I know now. Joann of Shoshone, Idaho.

    Reply
  5. I found a Underwing moth on my deck this morning, Aug. 3rd 2017, Shoshone, Idaho.
    Didn’t know what it was, thanks to your website, I know now. Joann of Shoshone, Idaho.

    Reply
  6. Ed Knudson was a good friend of mine and fellow entomologist for the past 40 years, but he was wrong in identifying this species as Catocala ilia. Ed recently died while out on a collecting field trip in Texas.

    Reply

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