Common name: Noctuid moths, owlet moths.
Geographical distribution: World-wide. This family, with about 40,000 described species, is the largest family in the order Lepidoptera. Current molecular studies suggest that the position of several groups within this family should be revised.
Morphology: The larvae (caterpillars) have three pairs of true thoracic legs and most species bear five pairs of abdominal prolegs on the 3rd-6th and 10th segments. Several genera, mainly in the subfamily Plusiinae (which lack two pairs of prolegs), move about in a loop-like manner, like the larvae of the Geometridae. The adults bear grey to brown forewings with dark and light characteristic markings.
Life cycle: Adult noctuids are active at night, when they feed (mostly on nectar), fly, mate and deposit eggs, on or near host plants. The caterpillars of some noctuids, termed “armyworms”, aggregate. These gregarious larvae are darker and more robust, active and destructive than those that had developed in isolation. Larval coloration is affected by pigments in the plants on which they had fed, by the extent of crowding, and by temperature: crowding and development at lower temperature generally results in a darker caterpillars. Most species pupate in the soil.
Economic importance: The family includes several major plant pests, (listed below). The caterpillars of some species, like Agrotis ipsilon, reside in the upper soil layers during day, feeding at ground level during night, affecting seedlings or young plants, cutting them off at ground level (thus termed “cutworms”). The larvae of other species are voracious feeders that can defoliate entire crop plots within a short period,
Noctuid pests included in this compendium
Agrotis ipsilon (Hufnagel) (Black cutworm).
Autographa gamma (L.) (Silver Y moth).
Earias insulana (Boisduval) (Spiny bollworm).
Helicoverpa armigera (Hübner) (African bollworm).
Pseudaletia unipuncta (Haworth) (True armyworm).
Spodoptera exigua (Hübner) (Beet armyworm).
Spodoptera littoralis (Boisduval) (Egyptian cotton leaf worm).
Poole, R. W. 1989. Lepidopterorum Catalogus (New Series), fasc. 118, Noctuidae (3 parts). E. J. Brill/Flora & Fauna Publications.
Zahiri, R. (and 6 co-authors) 2013. Relationships among the basal lineages of Noctuidae (Lepidoptera, Noctuoidea) based on eight gene regions. Zoologica Scripta 05: 42(5).