Red Underwing Moth: All You Need to Know – Quick and Comprehensive Guide

The red underwing moth is a fascinating creature to learn about, known for its unique coloration and patterns. Belonging to the genus Catocala, these moths typically have dull tan, brown, or gray forewings with wavy lines that mimic tree bark patterns, while their hindwings boast bright colors such as orange, red, yellow, or pink, complemented by bold dark patterns 1.

In terms of size, red underwing moths differ from species like the rosy maple moth, which is considered the smallest of the silk moths and has a wingspan of up to 2 inches across 2. By understanding and identifying these captivating insects and their characteristics, we can better appreciate the beauty and diversity nature has to offer.

Overview of Red Underwing Moth

Taxonomy and Classification

The Red Underwing Moth belongs to the family Erebidae, which is a part of the larger order of Lepidoptera. This moth species was first described in the Systema Naturae by Carl Linnaeus.

Morphology and Identification

Red Underwing Moths have dull-colored forewings, often mimicking tree bark patterns. The hindwings are their distinctive feature, displaying bright red or pink colors with bold, contrasting black patterns.

Some key characteristics of the Red Underwing Moth include:

  • Dull-colored forewings
  • Bright red or pink hindwings
  • Bold, contrasting patterns

Size and Wingspan

The size and wingspan of Red Underwing Moths can vary, but they typically fall within a certain range. Wingspans can reach up to 60-80 mm (2.4-3.1 inches).

Distribution and Range

These moths are found in various geographical regions, from southern Canada to Texas and eastward to the Atlantic.

Feature Red Underwing Moth Comparison Species
Wingspan 60-80 mm
Distribution Southern Canada to Texas, east to the Atlantic

In summary, the Red Underwing Moth is a distinctive species within the Erebidae family. Its unique morphology and widespread distribution make it an interesting subject for moth enthusiasts and researchers alike.

Life Cycle and Reproduction

Eggs and Larvae

  • Female red underwing moths lay eggs on specific host plants
  • Host plants include willow, poplar, and certain fruit trees

Red underwing moths start their life cycle as eggs, which females lay on the leaves of specific host plants. These plants often include willow, poplar, and occasionally, certain fruit trees. After a short period of time, the eggs hatch into small larvae.

Caterpillars and Pupation

  • Larvae grow into caterpillars and feed on host plants’ leaves
  • Caterpillars pupate in soil or leaf litter

As larvae develop into caterpillars, they feed on the leaves of their host plants. When it is time for pupation, the caterpillars will find a suitable spot in the soil or leaf litter underneath the host plant.

Lifespan and Mating

  • Adult moths have a brief lifespan
  • Mating occurs soon after emerging from pupation

The adult red underwing moth has a brief lifespan. Upon emerging from pupation, the moths will quickly search for a mate. After mating, the females lay eggs on suitable host plants, and the life cycle continues.

Habitat and Ecological Roles

Habitat Preferences

The Red Underwing Moth (Catocala nupta) typically inhabits deciduous forests and wooded areas. It shows a preference for:

  • Willow trees: These are one of the primary habitats for Red Underwing Moths.
  • Oak trees: These trees also provide a suitable environment for their survival.

Food Sources and Predators

The primary food sources for Red Underwing Moth caterpillars are:

  • Willow leaves
  • Oak leaves

Common predators of Red Underwing Moths include:

  • Bats
  • Birds

Camouflage and Adaptations

Red Underwing Moths possess unique camouflage abilities that help them blend in with their surroundings. Some adaptations include:

  • Forewings: Dull tan, brown, or gray color that mimics tree-bark patterns.
  • Hindwings: Bright red color with contrasting bold dark patterns that enable them to hide among the leaves of deciduous trees.

Comparison Table: Red Underwing Moth vs. other Catocala Moths

Feature Red Underwing Moth Other Catocala Moths
Habitat Preference Willow and Oak trees Similar wooded areas
Food Source (Caterpillar) Willow and Oak leaves Various tree leaves
Camouflage Forewings and Hindwings Similar patterns
Common Natural Predators Bats, Birds Bats, Birds

Overall, Red Underwing Moths demonstrate interesting habitat preferences, food sources, and predators, as well as exhibiting unique camouflage and adaptations that allow them to thrive within their environments.

Red Underwing Moth and Related Species

Underwing Moths

Underwing moths are known for their dull-colored forewings and vibrant hindwings. Examples of these moths include:

These moths are masters of camouflage, blending in with tree bark when resting.

Catocala Moths

Catocala moths, commonly named underwing moths, belong to the genus Catocala. Their hindwings are often brightly colored and patterned, such as:

Adult Catocala moths feed on nectar or sap, often found in wooded areas from southern Canada to the Atlantic.

Similar and Related Species

Some related species include:

To compare these species, here’s a table:

Species Forewing Color Hindwing Color Habitat
Precious underwing Dull gray Red Wooded areas
Pink underwing Dull gray Pink Wooded areas
Joined underwing Dull brown Orange Wooded areas
Marbled underwing Dull brown Red Wooded areas

In summary, red underwing moth and related species share the striking characteristic of contrasting dull forewings and brightly colored hindwings. They can be found across North America, living primarily in wooded areas.

Additional Information

Notable Discoveries and Subspecies

The red underwing moth (Catocala nupta) is part of the genus Catocala, which consists of different underwing moths. These moths are known for their:

  • Dull forewing colors
  • Brightly colored hindwings (usually red or orange) with dark patterns

Notable species within the genus include:

  • Catocala nupta (red underwing)
  • Catocala palaeogama (oldwife underwing)
  • Catocala ilia (beloved underwing)
  • Catocala cara (darling underwing)

These nocturnal moths are predominantly found in Europe, southern Canada, and specific regions in the United States.

Conservation Status

The red underwing moth’s habitat includes:

  • Deciduous trees
  • Riverbanks
  • Aspen and scrub areas

Adult moths feed on nectar and sap, while caterpillars feed on leaves. They appear in August and September throughout Europe, as well as in Scotland and Ireland.

Comparisons between Catocala nupta and Catocala elocata:

Feature Catocala nupta (Red Underwing) Catocala elocata (Mottled Underwing)
Hindwing Color Red with a black band Light red or pink
Forewing Pattern Dark with wavy lines Mottled with cream and dark patches
Distribution Europe, southern Canada, Ireland Europe, Asia

Though not considered endangered, the red underwing moth’s conservation status may vary depending on the region it inhabits. It is crucial to protect and maintain their habitats to ensure their survival.

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

 

Brown and red butterfly
Location: Colorado
July 21, 2011 3:44 am
Hey! You’re team is apparently very good at identifying insects and things, so I was wondering if you happen to know what this little creature is. My friend took the pictures at night outside is home in Colorado, but I’m pretty sure it’s a butterfly (since its wings are vertical in the second pic). Other than that, I am having no luck in identifying it. Any idea what kind of butterfly this is?
Signature: Mandooooo

Underwing

Dear Mandooooo,
This is actually a moth and not a butterfly.  Underwing Moths in the genus
Catocala are characterized by drab forewings that blend in with tree bark, and boldly marked and colored underwings that show in flight.  If the moth is startled and flies, it displays its bright colors, but when it alights on a tree, it seems to vanish.  Any predators will be hunting for a brightly colored tasty morsel, and they may easily overlook the now camouflaged Underwing Moth.

Underwing Moth

Letter 2 – Underwing Moth

 

Subject: Drasteria moth?
Location: Solano County, CA
July 7, 2012 7:07 pm
flew into my living room. Drasteria seemed the closest, but I couldn’t find any with that bright orange color.
Signature: me

Underwing Moth

This beautiful moth is one of the Underwing Moths in the genus Catocala, and according to the map on Bill Oehlke’s website, at least 7 different species have been documented from Solano County.  We do not have the necessary skills to take this identification to the species level.  Underwing Moths get their name from the brightly colored underwings that are only revealed when the moth is in flight.  When the moth is resting, it is easily camouflaged against bark or other surfaces which allows it to escape predation because the hunter is expecting to find something with brighter coloration after pursuing the flying moth.  If you are interested in learning more about local moths, you might want to see if there is a National Moth Week event near you.


Letter 3 – Underwing Moth we believe

 

Subject: Largish Moff in Michigan
Location: SE Michigan
August 20, 2017 2:53 pm
Hello Doc,
I found a big moth on my van’s window frame today. That’s a good indicator of scale, right? I bet it was close to 1 5/8″ long. Do you know the Type?
Signature: -Eric B.

Underwing, we believe

Dear Eric,
We believe this is an Underwing Moth in the genus Catocala, and based on this BugGuide image, it sure looks like The Sweetheart,
Catocala amatrix.  The bare spot on the thorax is a good indication that this is an older individual.  Underwings are so named because their upper wings blend in with tree bark when they are at rest, and if disturbed, they flash often brightly colored underwings, like in this BugGuide image.  Then when the moth comes to rest again and vanishes, it evades getting eaten because any sharp-eyed predator will be looking for much more brightly colored prey.  According to BugGuide:  “larvae feed on leaves of several species of poplar (Populus spp.) and Black Willow (Salix nigra).”

Letter 4 – Underwing Moth from Philippines is Phyllodes verhuellii

 

Philippine Moth
30 September, 2008
Hello Bugman,
I didn’t realize how beautiful these creatures are until my daughter’s boyfriend brought in a moth perched on our porch stool. He initially thought they were dried leaves. When the moth took flight, it displayed a spectacular fuschia color on the back of its wings and silver stripes on the underside of the wings. I wanted to keep it but it was agitated in the aquarium so I let it go… Its about 3ins in length. Our country, Philippines, is tropic but our city is located in the highlands so it can get quite cold.
AFPh
Baguio City, Philippines

Underwing Moth from Philippines
Phyllodes verhuillii

Hi AFPh,
We were obsessed with trying to identify your moth and with our limited free time, it took us a few days to prepare this posting, so the posting date differs from the submission date. We were certain it was one of the Noctuid Moths in the subfamily Catocalinae. Eventually our search led us to a Noctuid Moths of Thailand page with an image of Phyllodes eyndhovii on page 2. A further web search brought us to a Moths of Borneo page, and a photo of Phyllodes verhuelli. We are satisfied that we probably have the correct genus. One page on the Borneo site even has drawings of this species’ genitalia in the event you want to compare your specimen. Often examination of the genitalia is the only definite way to distinguish some species from others in the butterflies and moths.

Thank you so much for your time. You have just helped me become a bug addict . We are discovering new species that haven’t been seen in our area for decades or are just now being seen.  I’m thinking climate changes may be a contributing factor to this.
Thanks again.

Update:  July 21, 2016
Thanks to a comment from Rob de Vos, we are linking to an image of
Phyllodes verhuellii on geheugenvannederland.nl.

Letter 5 – Underwing Moth from Portugal

 

Big Unidentefied Moth
Location:  Portugal
August 8, 2010 5:39 am
Hi bugman, i came across this moth in that i have never seen before around here, it has about a 5/6 cm wingspan and appear to have two sets of wings, a bigger light brown one colored like it’s body, and a smaller orange/black striped set appear underneath when it spreads it’s wings!
I carefully captured the moth in a jar to take the picture, and released it after of course!
Bug

Underwing from Portugal

Dear Bug,
Your moth is an Underwing Moth in the genus Catocala.  We do not get many submissions from Portugal, so we are very excited to post your letter and photograph.

Letter 6 – Underwing Moth, possibly The Sweetheart

 

What kind of moth is this?
August 28, 2009
I found this cute moth in a shady spot outside. it has red on its wings.
what kind of moth is it?
Ducky and Red Bear
NM

Underwing Moth
Underwing Moth

Dear Ducky and Red Bear,
This is an Underwing Moth in the genus Catocala, but we have difficult distinguishing individual species.  Perhaps a reader can supply a species identification.  We believe it might be The Sweetheart, Calocala amatrix, based on images posted to BugGuide.

Letter 7 – Underwing Moth, but which species???

 

Subject:  Catacola Verrilliana
Location:  Louisa, Va
Date: 09/03/2017
Time: 12:31 PM EDT
We found two specimens of catacola verrilliana on our place in Louisa, Va. It seems that it’s an invasive species mainly found in the western part of the US. We have raised butterflies but have no experience with moths. One of the specimens is alive, so we were wondering what to feed it. Any help or info would be helpful. Thanks, George Tyler
Your Name:  George Tyler

Underwing Moth

Dear George,
We are curious what caused you to identify your Underwing Moth in the genus
Catocala as Catocala verrilliana, a species we found pictured on BugGuide.  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.”  In our opinion, many species are very difficult to distinguish from one another, and we would speculate that you more likely encountered a species known to range in your area.  We browsed through all the species of Underwings posted to BugGuide, and we could not conclusively identify your individual.  You can try feeding your Underwing overly ripe fruit like plums or peaches.  If you break the skin, your Underwing will have an easier time feeding.

Thank you for your response.

Letter 8 – Underwing Moth, we believe

 

What is this moth
Location: Waco Texas
May 12, 2011 9:42 am
What is this moth? Found it in Central Texas on an oak tree in May 2011.
I enjoy your site.
Thank you
Signature: Ann

Probably Underwing Moth

Dear Ann,
We believe this is an Underwing Moth in the genus
Catocala.  Underwing Moths usually have brownish grey patterned forewings that resemble tree bark which camouflages the moths quite well while they are at rest.  The underwings are often more brightly colored and more boldly marked.  When the moth is forced to fly during daylight hours, the bright forewings capture the attention of a predator who is then unable to locate the moth once it comes to rest because it blends in so well with its surroundings.

Letter 9 – Underwing, we believe

 

Subject:  Moth
Geographic location of the bug:  Northern Indiana
Date: 08/14/2018
Time: 05:43 PM EDT
Your letter to the bugman:  This guy has been on our garage door all day.  I can’t seem to find him online or in our books.
How you want your letter signed:  Bobbi

Underwing, we believe

Dear Bobbi,
We believe this is an Underwing Moth in the genus
Catocala, so named because they often have brightly colored underwings that are hidden when the moth is at rest, but when it flies, it flashes a color that causes a predator to search for a more brightly colored prey, but when the Underwing lands on a tree, it perfectly blends in with the bark.

Dear Mr. Marlos,
Thank you for your help! I wish I could have seen him fly away last night. I would have loved to see his colors.
If he would have been on a tree, there’s no way we could have seen him.
Thank you again. What a great site you have!!

Letter 10 – Unknown Australian Moth is Fruit Piercing Moth

 

Help ID please or maybe Grev can help
Hi Guys,
this is a new one on me, I have never seen anything even close. This is a large moth, body about 1.5″ to 2′” long. It is an awkward erratic flyer and when in flight the wings appear orange/brown on the underside. When it
finds a roost it immediately swings upside down and folds its wings as shown.. I have looked on geocities and Australian Moths on line but I can’t find a match. Hope you can find a match for me. Taken 20th February 2008, Gold Coast, Queensland. Thanks for the research on those wasps, regards,
Trevor Jinks

Hi Trevor,
This is a most unusual moth. We will post your photos and hopefully someone can lead us to the correct species. The curving back of the wings is such a distinctive feature. We skimmed this Moth Site to no avail.

Update: (02/21/2008) ID found for the Moth
Thanks to Roger Kendrick from C & R Wildlife, the moth is a Eudocima salaminia, Noctuidae, Catocalinae. This link has all the info. http://www-staff.it.uts.edu.au/~don/larvae/cato/salamin.html Unfortunately this is a pest species for fruit so probably lots of these beautiful moths get poisoned. regards,
Trevor

Update: (02/21/2008)
australian moth
Hi Daniel,
I had some luck with the last mystery moth, so, I’ve been looking for the mystery moth you posted the other day from Queensland. I think I’m on to it… If it’s not Eudocima salaminia, it’s got to be related to them, commonly the fruit piercing moths . Hope this helps you out, I’ve read how busy you both are. Here in CT there’s not much bugwatching to be done, we’re expecting some snow tomorrow. Take care,
Karen Oram, Shelton, CT

Letter 11 – Walnut Underwing makes porch light appearance!!!

 

Buggy Accessory:  Walnut Underwing
Location:  Mount Washington, Los Angeles, California
September 1, 2013
This Walnut Underwing was on the front door in the morning.  We spotted it before the sun rose.  We waited for better light to photograph it.  It makes a lovely accessory on Jennifer’s scarf.

Buggy Accessory:  Walnut Underwing
Buggy Accessory: Walnut Underwing

As moths go, Underwings are rather long lived, like many Noctuoids.  A Walnut Underwing visits our office certain summers.  We are confident it is subsequent generations, but we are also confident that Walnut Underwings are reproducing in Elyria Canyon Park.  When Underwings fly, they reveal their gaily colored underwings, a survival adaptation that attracts the attention of insectivorous birds that lose the moth when it alights camouflaged on a tree trunk.

Walnut Underwing
Walnut Underwing

 

Letter 12 – Walnut Underwing

 

Subject:  Walnut Underwing
Location:  Mount Washington, Los Angeles, California
July 10, 2015
Summer is the time of year the Walnut Underwings visit our porch light, and we already sighted a more tattered individual earlier this year, but this beauty spent the entire day resting on the wooden siding.  The next night it was fluttering at the light.  We were concerned that it was not going about its normal activities, so we captured it and released it to a darker part of the garden.

Walnut Underwing
Walnut Underwing

 

Letter 13 – Walnut Underwing

 

Subject:  Walnut Underwing
Location:  Mount Washington, Los Angeles, California
June 30, 2016
This Walnut Underwing was fluttering around the light last night and it was resting on the wall this morning.  We wonder if this is the same individual we posted last month.  The wings are a bit tattered, indicating this is not a freshly eclosed moth.  Underwings are long lived moths, in the scheme of things.

Walnut Underwing
Walnut Underwing

Letter 14 – Walnut Underwing

 

Subject:  Walnut Underwing flashes its colors in Mount Washington
Location:  Mount Washington, Los Angeles, California
July 10, 2016 10:30 PM
Though we have managed to get images of Walnut Underwings several times each year, getting a good glimpse at the gorgeously marked underwings responsible for the common name is not that easy.  This beauty was quite cooperative tonight.  After startling it when we walked out onto the porch to dump a pot full of water into the garden, it remained “posing” on the ground until we had time to run for the camera and we got a few images using the on-camera flash.

Walnut Underwing
Walnut Underwing

Letter 15 – Walnut Underwing from Mount Washington

 

Thursday, July 16, 2009
Last night, when we returned home from dinner, this Underwing Moth tried to fly into the livingroom.  We shushed it back outside, and this morning, it was still on the screen door.  We believe this is the Walnut Underwing, Catocala piatrix, which BugGuide identifies as the Penitent.
BugGuide identifies it as an eastern species, but also indicates a sighting from Arizona.  Charles Hogue describes it as a local species in his Insects of the Los Angeles Basin.  We generally sight one or two individuals each summer.

Walnut Underwing
Walnut Underwing

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.

    View all posts
  • 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.

    View all posts

5 thoughts on “Red Underwing Moth: All You Need to Know – Quick and Comprehensive Guide”

  1. Thanks for the ID, Bugman! I can try and submit some unusual bugs I find here from Portugal, the only drawback is that I’m currently stuck with my phone’s camera, so the quality won’t be top notch, still, that will have to do for now.

    Reply
  2. Maybe somewhat late, but I hope still useful: Your specimen is Phyllodes verhuellii Vollenhoven, 1858 (Erebidae, Calpinae, Phyllodini). The Philippine specimens are slightly different from those from the Sundanian islands in Indonesia. For instance the red in de circle on the hindwing is much more extended. It might belong to a still undescribed subspecies. In Naturalis Biodiversity Center (Leiden, The Netherlands) we have four specimens from The Philippines and they all look exactly the same as the one from your picture.

    Reply

Leave a Comment