Landcare Research - Manaaki Whenua

Landcare-Research -Manaaki Whenua

Introduction to Pyraloidea families and subfamilies of New Zealand

Family Crambidae (ca 238 species)

The Crambidae form one of the most diverse families of moths in New Zealand, with an estimated 238 species (including well characterised unnamed taxa). Almost all of this diversity is contained in the subfamilies Crambinae and Scopariinae, with major radiations in the endemic genus Orocrambus(ca 50 species) and possibly the world’s largest radiation of Scopariinae (at least 126 species). By comparison, Spilomelinae and Pyraustinae (formerly treated as the single subfamily Pyraustinae) are very poorly represented here with only 20 species in total, and each of the remaining subfamilies has between 1 and 4 New Zealand species. One species, Argyrias.l.strophaea, formerly included in the genus Culladiain Crambinae, is unassigned to subfamily (see below). Crambids are an often conspicuous and abundant component of the native fauna, many being active or easily put up from their resting places by day, and inhabiting diverse habitats including coastal dunes, native (and exotic) forest, shrublands, wetlands, tussock grasslands and alpine herbfields. Most species are also attracted to light at night and crambids may make up a significant proportion of light-trap catches especially in more open environments. Some crambids are amongst our commonest moths (e.g. the ubiquitous Orocrambus flexuosellus), whilst others are very restricted in their requirements and are regarded as threatened (see Threatened species factsheets). A number of new adventive species have recently become established in New Zealand (e.g., Glyphodes onychinalis(Spilomelinae), Trichophysetiscf. cretacea(Cybalomiinae)) and there are likely to be more additions to the fauna in future. A summary of the known diversity and biology of each subfamily in New Zealand is given below. The numbers of named species given are those considered valid for the current treatment (i.e., after accounting for unpublished synonymies). Subfamily classification follows the GlobIZ world Pyraloidea database (Nuss et al. 2003-2015;

Subfamily Acentropinae (1 named species)

This subfamily was for a long time known as Nymphulinae. The only New Zealand species is Hygraula nitens, which is also New Zealand’s only moth with a fully aquatic, gilled larva. It is common and widespread and also occurs commonly in Australia.

Subfamily Crambinae (79 named species, 3+ unnamed)

The dominant New Zealand genus is the endemic Orocrambus with about 50 species. Larvae of Orocrambus, which are rarely seen or reared, feed on grasses (Poaceae) or sedges (Cyperaceae) from a silken shelter at the base of the plant. The genus is especially diverse in the alpine zone of the South Island; those restricted to the highest altitudes are dark in coloration and have compact, robust bodies and broad wings, appearing quite different from their slender, long-winged, pale counterparts at lower elevations. The genus was revised by Gaskin (1975); some corrections to Gaskin’s taxonomy were introduced by White (2002). Several species of Orocrambushave brachypterous flightless females (e.g., O. fugitivellus, O. sophistes). Note that some species of Orocrambusare difficult or impossible to identify confidently without genitalia dissection: species for which the photographed specimens lack abdomens have been determined in this way and belong in this category. Kupeaand Maoricrambusare monotypic genera closely related to Orocrambus; K. electilis(another species with a brachypterous female) is confined to very localised colonies on Kaitorete Spit, Canterbury, while M. oncobolusis an apparently extremely local and rare species confined to a few scattered sites from the southern North Island to Southland (see Threatened species factsheets for both species).

The second most diverse genus after Orocrambusis Glaucocharis with 18 species. The genus is widespread, but all New Zealand species are endemic. Adults are frequently seen by day when they are disturbed from vegetation in forest. Most species are fairly common to abundant, at least locally; G. stellais far more local and seldom seen; G. planetopa(not illustrated here) is a very poorly known South Island species that is barely represented in collections.

Bleszynskia malacelloidesand Culladia cuneiferellusare both adventive taxa here. Whilst C. cuneiferellushas become widespread and common in the northern North Island since its first reported New Zealand occurrence in 1999, B. malacelloides, which was well established from ca 1927 until the 1980’s (Dugdale 1988), has nearly disappeared, with only one recent record, from far northern Northland.

Gadiracontains four endemic species associated with lichens: G. acerellais fairly common and widespread, whilst G. leucophthalmaand G. petraulaare very local and confined to rocky places in the eastern South Island, often near the coast. A rare undescribed species is confined to the Mackenzie Basin (see Threatened species factsheets). The inclusion of Gadira petraulain the checklist of Australian Lepidoptera (Shaffer et al.1996) is an error; there is no evidence for the occurrence of this species outside New Zealand.

The three species of Tauroscopaalong with Tawhitia glaucophanesare relatively large-bodied grey to blackish day-flying moths of higher elevations; their appearance is typical of alpine Crambidae worldwide, resembling our alpine Orocrambus. Tawhitia pentadactylais a distinctive large but less heavily built species associated with swamps or sometimes drier grassland habitats from the central North Island south. The female of T. pentadactylashows a tendency towards brachyptery.

Subfamily Glaphyriinae (1 named species, not illustrated)

Hellula hydralisis a vagrant to New Zealand from eastern Australia, where it is a pest of Brassicaceae; it is apparently very rare here and has not been reported in recent years, but may have been overlooked.

Subfamily Heliothelinae (1 named species)

Heliothela atrais a small day-flying endemic species, locally widespread in open habitats, particularly in the mountains, throughout the South Island. Its life history is unknown but the superficially similar European H. wulfenianahas larvae feeding on Violaspp. (Violaceae).

Subfamily Musotiminae (3 named species, 1 unnamed)

Musotiminae are broad-winged brightly patterned crambids with larvae feeding on ferns. The commonest species, Musotima nitidalis, is a native shared with Australia, and has a number of known hosts, including Paesia scaberula, Pteridium esculentum, and Hypolepisspp. A rather distinctive large dark form has larvae on Asplenium oblongifolium. Musotima aduncalisis a strongly sexually dimorphic endemic species with larvae on maidenhair ferns, Adiantumspp. M. ochropteralisis a rarely seen adventive from Australia, so far recorded only from Auckland and not yet reared. An unnamed species of Musotima (not illustrated) is known from the Three Kings Islands.

Subfamily Pyraustinae (4 named species)

This subfamily contains the well-known endemic kōwhai moth, Uresiphita maorialis, which is widespread, and its adventive Australian counterpart U. ornithopteralis (so far confined to the northern North Island); separation of the two relies mainly on underside characters, as described by Hoare (2011). Both have larvae feeding on various woody Fabaceae. Another species, Achyra affinitalis, migrates regularly from Australia, and is now established in drier localities; larvae feed on a wide range of low-growing plants. Pyrausta comastis(formerly Proteroeca comastis) is an extremely local and probably declining endemic moth of damp open habitats in the South Island, chiefly at higher elevations; its life history is unknown and needs investigating.

Subfamily Scopariinae (118+ named species, 8+ unnamed)

This subfamily has undergone an extraordinary radiation in New Zealand, and forms a conspicuous element of the Lepidoptera fauna in most habitats. Although the range of wing patterns here is greater than is typical worldwide for this conservative group, New Zealand Scopariinae still present many formidable identification challenges, and a taxonomic revision is badly needed. The taxonomic decisions and identifications made in compiling the image gallery are discussed in detail on the page Notes on Scopariinae. All New Zealand species in this subfamily are endemic.

Numbers of species in the large genera Eudoniaand Scopariaare not completely known, since not all taxa have been dissected, and genitalia examination is required to confirm a species’ generic placement. It is likely that Eudoniais the more diverse genus in New Zealand; species of Eudoniamostly have larvae that feed on mosses or lichens, but some incorporate grasses in their diet (e.g. E. sabulosella); several species are fern-feeding (e.g. E. zophochlaena, E. monophthalma) and one unnamed species has been reared from algae on rocks. Few New Zealand Scopariaspecies have been reared, but most are likely to be associated with herbaceous plants or mosses.

Antiscopacurrently contains three widespread species, but the little-known alpine Scoparia s.l. fimbriataprobably also belongs here. The life histories are unknown for all species.

Most remarkable are the two subantarctic species, Protyparcha scaphodesfrom the Auckland Islands and Exsilirarcha gramineafrom Campbell Island. In both species, the female is strongly brachypterous and flightless, with a large swollen abdomen (E. gramineafemale not illustrated here). P. scaphodeshas a flighted male, but E. gramineahas a strongly stenopterous flightless male with long legs adapted for jumping. Larvae feed in grass tussocks; assignment of these apparently primitive genera to Scopariinae follows Dugdale (1988). The two species are probably closely related and might better be placed in a single genus.

Subfamily Cybalomiinae (1 species, named?)

A single Trichophysetis species has been well established in northern New Zealand since 1999 (Hoare 2001); it may be T. cretaceafrom east Asia, but this remains to be confirmed. Moths have been reared from larvae feeding on berries of introduced privet (Ligustrum sinense).

Subfamily Schoenobiinae (1 named species, 1 unnamed)

Clepsicosma iridiahas been variously placed in Acentropinae and Pyraustinae, but is correctly placed here based on secondary sexual characters of the male. The adults may be common in forests and shrublands from Northland to Westland amongst large Gahnia sedges, but the life history remains unknown. A second, unnamed Clepsicosmaspecies is a very local inhabitant of gumlands and coastal areas in the Northland and Auckland districts (see Threatened species factsheets).

Subfamily Spilomelinae (15 named species, 1 unnamed)

Species of this subfamily were formerly placed in Pyraustinae. The adults are mostly rather broad-winged moths, readily identified on wing pattern. The genus Mnesictena(treated as a synonym of Udeaby Munroe (1983) and Nuss et al.2003-2015) is retained here as a valid endemic genus based on the phylogenetic results of Mally & Nuss (2011); there are currently 7 named species. Larvae of Mnesictena spp. feed from silken spinnings on their hosts; M. pantheropais restricted to the Chatham Islands and M. antipodea(not illustrated) to the Antipodes. Mnesictena adversa has not been confidently recognised here as a taxon separate from M. notatadue to the variability of the latter in characters supposed to be of value in separating the two; further work is needed. The related genus Deanacontains a single widespread endemic species, D. hybreasalis, with larvae on Clematisspp. Diasemia grammalisis an apparently endemic member of a genus that is widespread in the Old World; larvae feed low to the ground amongst leaf litter and plant roots. The native Diplopseustis perieresalisis a widespread Oriental and Australasian species that has recently become established in Europe; larvae have not been found in New Zealand, but adults are closely associated with various large dense monocot plants such as Gahniaand Carex, and sometimes with epiphytic orchids. Glyphodes onychinalisis a recently established adventive with larvae feeding on swan-plant (Gomphocarpus) and oleander (Nerium) in gardens. Herpetogramma licarsisalisis an immigrant that became established in Northland from about 1999, with larvae damaging pasture grasses; it is probably confined as a breeding species to the far North, but occurs sporadically further south. Leucinodes cordalis(formerly Sceliodes cordalis) is a native species shared with Australia; larvae feed in fruits of Solanaceae, chiefly the endemic Solanum laciniatumand S. aviculare. Proternia philocapnais a fairly common endemic forest species with larvae feeding in leaf-litter. The beet webworm Spoladea recurvalisis a sporadically establishing immigrant whose larvae feed on crops such as beet and spinach. An unnamed endemic species, tentatively assigned to Loxostege s.l., is an inhabitant of salt-pans in a few dry inland localities the South Island (see Threatened species factsheets).

Unplaced to subfamily (1 named species)

Argyria s.l. strophaeais a peculiar endemic moth, with highly characteristic male and female genitalia. It occurs widely throughout the North Island and northern South Island in small numbers. It was placed in the crambine genus Culladiaby Gaskin (1973) but this placement is utterly misleading and erroneous (as is the original association with Argyria) (Hoare 2001). The life history is unknown.

Family Pyralidae (23 named, 1 unnamed species)

This family is very poorly represented in New Zealand, and almost all species are adventive. The family contains some of the best-known stored products pests, most of which are now cosmopolitan.

Subfamily Epipaschiinae (1 named species)

Stericta carbonalisis an Australian species whose larvae feed on Eucalyptusleaf-litter; the adults are adapted for camouflage on fire-blackened trunks, but do not seem to be confined to recently burnt areas. The labial palpi of the male moth are enlarged and curve back over the head, making the head appear helmeted (a characteristic of this subfamily). This species has only recently become established, occurring on Banks Peninsula and around Christchurch, and may be expected to spread.

Subfamily Galleriinae (2 named species)

Two introduced species occur in New Zealand: Galleria mellonellaand Achroia grisellaare respectively the Greater and Lesser Wax Moths. Their larvae feed in the wax of honeycombs in honeybee hives, and may become pests, particularly when the hives are under stress from other causes. Both species are now cosmopolitan.

Subfamily Phycitinae (16 named species, 1 unnamed)

This subfamily contains New Zealand’s only endemic pyralid moths, with two monotypic endemic genera, Delogenesand Sporophyla, currently recognised. Both Delogenes limodoxaand Sporophyla oenosporaare very local species of the southern South Island; their life histories are unknown, and there are very few recent records of S. oenospora, a moth of dry inland localities. Homoeosoma anaspilais more widespread; larvae feed in Asteraceae seed-heads including those of Craspedia. Vinicia sp. A is our only representative of a small Australian genus and is apparently endemic (Horak 1997); it is a strictly coastal moth of the northern North Island, and larvae feed on the saltmarsh plant Samolus repens.

Arcola malloiand Pempelia genistellaare both weed bio-control agents; A. malloiwas introduced for control of alligator weed (Alternanthera philoxeroides) and P. genistellafor gorse (Ulex europaeus). Both moths are established but neither species is commonly found at large in New Zealand. Balanomis encycliais an Australian species, known from very few specimens in New Zealand; it may be established in the far North, where a specimen was reared from native dodder (Cassytha paniculata).

Species of Cadra,Ephestiaand Plodiaare well known cosmopolitan stored products pests, frequently found in kitchens and warehouses; Plodia interpunctellais by far the commonest species in New Zealand. A specimen of Ephestia kuehniellafrom Whangarei was described by Meyrick (1931) as a new species Homoeosoma ischnomorpha,since unrecognised; I am very grateful to Maia Vaswani for dissecting the holotype of ischnomorpha in the BMNH and revealing Meyrick’s uncharacteristic error; the synonymy will be formalised elsewhere.

Crocydopora cinigerella, Ephestiopsis oenobarellaand Morosaphycita oculiferellaare all essentially Australian species now well established in New Zealand; C. cinigerellamay be a long-term resident or native here but the others are more recent arrivals. Larvae of M. oculiferellaare associated with lucerne and doubtless other Fabaceae; early stages of the other two species seem to be unknown. Etiella behriiis a very scarce immigrant to New Zealand, with fewer than 5 known records; larvae have not been found here, but in Australia and elsewhere feed on various low-growing Fabaceae. Patagoniodes farinariais a common and widespread species, also shared with Australia, but may be regarded as native in New Zealand: larvae feed in stems of Seneciospp. and Jacobaea vulgaris(ragwort). Ptyomaxia trigonogrammais a further species shared with Australia; it is a coastal moth resident in the northern North Island, where larvae feed on mangrove, Avicennia marinassp. australasica. It may be a fairly recent adventive, as there are no New Zealand records from before 1954; or perhaps it was overlooked before this date due to lack of collecting in northern coastal localities.

Subfamily Pyralinae (4 named species)

All four pyralines present in New Zealand are introduced, and three are widespread synanthropic species. Pyralis farinalisis the Meal Moth, a cosmopolitan stored products pest frequently found indoors, but also in poultry sheds. Aglossa caprealisis a much less common moth, also found indoors, where larvae feed on grain or dry vegetable refuse. In New Zealand, Aglossa pinguinalishas only been collected around Nelson, where larvae have been found in sheep dung. Unlike the other pyraline species, Gauna aegusalisis a native of Australia, established here where wattles (Acaciaspp.) occur: larvae feed in the rust galls on these plants caused by the fungus Uromycladium.

Missing species

Apart from unnamed species and species recorded only from the Kermadecs, a few species are not yet illustrated on the Pyraloidea pages. These fall into two categories:

  2. Species for which it has not yet been possible to find or borrow good enough specimens for photography: Crambinae: Glaucocharis planetopa; Orocrambus clarkei; O. dicrenellus; O. eximius; Glaphyriinae: Hellula hydralis; Spilomelinae: Mnesictena antipodea.
  3. Species of dubious taxonomic status, i.e. named species lacking clear diagnostic features and not separated as species in NZAC: Crambinae: Orocrambus punctellus(possibly a synonym of O. vulgaris); O. sophronellus(probably a synonym of O. corruptus); Spilomelinae: Mnesictena adversa(not clearly distinguished from M. notata).

Note: missing species of Scopariinae are discussed on the page Notes on Scopariinae.


Many thanks to Birgit Rhode (NZAC), who put an immense amount of work and hard-won skill into photographing and editing images of the hundreds of specimens in the image galleries. Brian Patrick kindly compiled most of the Threatened Species factsheets. I am also especially grateful to Maia Vaswani, who visited the British Museum (Natural History), London, on my behalf and took images of genitalia of key taxa, mostly Scopariinae, which greatly assisted in identifications of specimens imaged, and clarified the correct application of many names. She also very kindly dissected the holotype of Homoeosoma ischnomorphaMeyrick. I gratefully acknowledge the financial assistance of the Terrestrial and Freshwater Biodiversity Information System (TFBIS) Programme towards this project (TFBIS number 267). The TFBIS Programme is funded by the New Zealand Government to help achieve the goals of the New Zealand Biodiversity Strategy, and is administered by the Department of Conservation.


Dugdale, J.S. 1988. Lepidoptera — annotated catalogue, and keys to family-group taxa. Fauna of New Zealand 14.262 pp.

Gaskin, D.E. 1975. Revision of the New Zealand Crambini (Lepidoptera: Pyralidae: Carmbinae). New Zealand Journal of Zoology 2(3): 265-363.

Hoare, R.J.B. 2001. Adventive species of Lepidoptera recorded for the first time in New Zealand since 1988. New Zealand Entomologist 24: 23-47.

Hoare, R.J.B. 2011. Lepidoptera of gumland heaths — a threatened and rare ecosystem of northern New Zealand. New Zealand Entomologist 34: 67-76.

Horak, M. 1997. The Phycitine genera FaveriaWalker, Morosaphycita gen. nov., EpicrocisZeller, Ptyobathra Turner and ViniciaRagonot in Australia (Pyralidae: Phycitinae). Invertebrate Taxonomy 11: 333-421.

Mally, R.; Nuss M. 2011. Molecular and morphological phylogeny of European Udea moths (Insecta: Lepidoptera: Pyraloidea). Arthropod Systematics and Phylogeny 69(1): 55-71.

Meyrick, E. 1931. New species of New Zealand Lepidoptera. Transactions and Proceedings of the New Zealand Institute 62: 92-97.

Munroe, E. 1983. Pyralidae (except Crambinae). Pp. 67-76, 78-85 inHodges, R.W. et al.Check List of the Lepidoptera of America north of Mexico including Greenland. E.W. Classey Ltd. and Wedge Entomological Research Foundation, London.

Nuss, M., Landry, B., Mally, R., Vegliante, F., Tränkner, A., Bauer, F., Hayden, J., Segerer, A., Schouten, R., Li, H., Trofimova, T., Solis, M. A., De Prins, J., Speidel, W. 2003–2015. Global Information System on Pyraloidea.

Shaffer, M., Nielsen, E.S., Horak, M. Pyralidae. Pp. 164-199 in Nielsen, E.S., Edwards, E.D., Rangsi, V. eds. Checklist of the Lepidoptera of Australia. Monographs on Australian Lepidoptera 4. 529 pp. + CD-RoM.

White, E.G. 2002. New Zealand Tussock Grassland Moths. Manaaki Whenua Press, Lincoln, New Zealand. 362 pp.