Lepidoptera Amatidae, Arctiidae &Noctuidae: India

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This is an extract from
Protozoa to Mammalia
State of the Art.
Zoological Survey of India, 1991.
By Professor Mohammad Shamim Jairajpuri
Director, Zoological Survey of India
and his team of devoted scientists.
The said book is an enlarged, updated version of
The State of Art Report: Zoology
Edited by Dr. T. N. Ananthakrishnan,
Director, Zoological Survey of India in 1980.

Note: This article is likely to have several spelling mistakes that occurred during scanning. If these errors are reported as messages to the Facebook page, Indpaedia.com your help will be gratefully acknowledged.


Lepidoptera Amatidae, Arctiidae &Noctuidae


In continuity with the foregone chapter, this account is concerned with the three major families ofNoctuoidea, viz., Syntomidae (now Amatidae), Arctiidae and Noctuidae, all and particularly the last two of which are of much economic importance to mankind, mainly in the form of pests on different crops and vegetations. It may be noted that the ophiderine larvae (army worms, cut wonns, boll worms, stem worms, etc.) of the family Noctuidae alone, feeding on fruits as well as forest trees, cause damage to the exchequer worth lakhs of rupees. In the preceding chapter, brief details of references covering the important items of work on the noctuoid motl)s, amidst th~ Lepidoptera in general, have been provided, so that those on families in question are selectively cited here.


The Hampsonian system is universally followed, but with certain modifications both at the subfamily and generic levels, particularly of the Arctiidae and Noctuidae by subsequent authors like different specialist in Seitz (1909-38). The other family, Amatidae, has no subfamily. In fact, all these families beai' very close affmities with one another not only in the adult stage but also in the early stages. The Amatidae is the nearest ally of the Arctiidae, and the latter, of the Noctuidae.

Historical Resume

i) Pre-1900

Guen6e (1852) exhaustively dealt with the natural history of Lepidoptera with particular reference to the noctuoid moths. Walker (18'4-'66), Butler (1877) and Hampson (1898-1914) published lists and catalogues along with descriptions of the Indian and exotic noctuoid moths lying in the collection of the British Museum (Natural History), London. Butler (1875) revised the arctiid genus Spilosoma and the allied groups, while Moore (1878) further geared up the revisionary work of Lithosiinae with descriptions of other genera and species. Moore (1881, 1988) continued to describe more genera and•species of nOCturnal Lepidoptera collected by W. S. Atkinson, W. C. Hewitson, J. H. Hockings and also by himself from Calcutta and North-West Himalaya; earlier, he (1877) prepared a long list of the fauna occurring in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. Apart from the work on the Lepidoptera of Bengal and the Deccan (1885) and Mhow in the Madhya Pradesh (1886), Swinhoe (1889) described other nocturnal species. Similarly, Cotes (1889-'91, 1891-'93, '96) contributed a series of notes on insect pests and other important aspects of performance appraisal from the Entomological Section of the Indian Museum in the Indian Mus. Notes, Calcutta. Besides, Hampson (1892-'96) published volumes in the 'Fauna of British India Series of the Indian subregion, dealing interalia with all the three families concerned; he (1891-'93) also illustrated the type-specimens of moths deposited in the British Museum (Nat Hist.), London and later (1895) described new moths from India

ii) 1901-1947

During the period under report, series of contributions to the studies on taxonomy in particular and also to certain extent on other aspects of systematics related to the noctuoids, were in full swing. Of these, the notable works in taxonomy were made by Hampson (1902, 1903, 1905, 1907, 1926), Swinhoe (1903), Warren, in Seitz (1909-'13, 1912-'37), Seiti, in Seitz (1910, 1912, 1913, 1915, 1919-25), Rotschild in Seitz (1912, 1914 and 1936), Seitz &Draudt, in Seitz (1913), Oraudt, in Seitz (1914, 1934), Gibson (1915), Fletcher (1926), Corti, in Seitz (1933), Corti &Oraudt, in Seitz (1933), Collenette (1935), Gaede, in Seitz (1937-'38), Jordan (1939), Gardner (1943) and Daniel (1943-'S4). Maxwell-Lefroy (1906) elaboratively brought to light important Indian insect pests, while Fletcher (1921, 1925) furnished detailed inventory of the Indian crop-pests as well as interpreted migration as a factor in pest outbreaks; there are also other notes on economic insects and insect pests from the Indian Museum by Barlow (1900, 1903).

As to the morphological work, Pierce, et ale (1909-'43) made note-worthy contributions to the studies of noctuid genitalia in as many as seven vo'umes, while Tillyard (1918), Ripley (1925), Richards (1933), Gohrbrandt (1940) and Faure (1943) made salient observations on other features like wing-coupling apparatus, comparative skeletal structures of tympanum, wing-antenna correlation, phase-variation, etc. Apart from the Hampson's Catalogues, such type of work was further attributed to the credit ofZerny (1912-'17), Strand (1919, '20, '22) and Bryk (1937). On habits and ecology, works of Kaye (1913), Lloyd (1920) and Beeson (1941) dealing with mimicry, instincts of glasshouse tomato moth, different forest insects and their control, etc., are worth mentioning. Meanwhile, certain significant reports during the Proceedings of entomological meetings, on agricultural experiments etc., held at various places in India were published by Fletcher (1917), Burt (1918), Chopra (1928) and others. Sevastopulo (1935, '45) worked out the faunistic aspects of the noctuoids from Darjeeling and Calcutta. Over and above, Zerny &Beier (1936) and Ramakrishna Ayyar (1940) published Handbooks on insects and economic entomology, while Roepke (1944) made valuable revisional notes on the arctiid genus Cyana.

iii) 1948-1990

Contributions to the morphological studies including certain new observations on the noctuoids were made during this period by Koning & Roepke (1949), Kiriakoff (1950), Sibatani~ et al., (1954), Arora (1975) and Smithe (1975). These studies were consecrated. to different aspects, viz., remarks on the morphology of teak Moth, typanal organs in relation to the classification, male genitalia, observation of ocelli and the naturalist's colour guide. Serious researches were continued in the field of taxonomy and systematics by different authorities. Prominent amongst them were Travassos (1949), Roepke (1949, '57), Rego-Barros (1956), Kostrowicki (1961), Obmztsov (1966), Bhattacharjee &Gupta (1969), Kapur &Arora (1971), Cayro} (1972), Brown &Dewhurst (1975), Barlow (1982), Holloway (1982) and Kitching (1984). It may be noted here that according to Kitching, the suprageneric or the subfamily treatment of Noctuidae is rather far from the up-to-date level of satisfaction. Bhasin (1963) and Roonwal & Sen-Sarma (1963) prepared a systematic catalogue of the nOctuoids, housed at the Forest Research Institute, Dehra Dun. Dr. R.

W. Pools of Smithsonian Institution, U.S.A., is currently producing a catalogue of the World Noctuidae. Franclemont (1951) reviewed generic names for the various segregates of Leucania. while Boursin (1957), Ramamani &Subbarao (1965), Nye (1975) and Watson, et ale (1980) provided different synonymic and critical notes on Agrotidae (now subfamily of Noctuidae) and allied subgroups. Rao (1952) made an extensive investi~ation into the statistical methods in biometric research. Muller (1953) contributed an account of Noctuidae in a Handbook edited by P. Sorauer, Berlin. In respect of habits, behaviour and allied areas of the group with particular reference to the Noctuidae, Venkataraman (1954) observed on the migration of Agrotis J[Jsilon (Rott.) from the plains to the hills, while several authors like Jacobson (1972), Campion (1972, '75, '76), Neumark, el ale (1977), Neshitt (1978), S~to, el ale (1980), Campion &Nesbitt (1981) and Zeleny, et ale (1982) contributed to the studies on sex-pheroinoes, light-traps and pest management of tropical species. Food habits were studied by Banziger (1979, '80, '82, '83) and Wheeler &Blackwell (1984); the former dealt with the fruit-piercing and blood-sucking behaviour of the adults belonging to the ophiderine noctuids, while the latter referred to the concern of recent economic status of these moths, of which the larvae feed on lichens and fungi. Amongst other investigations on pests and control, several may be cited as Lal (1955, '64), Shirname (1955), Rivnay (1962), Singh (1963), Srivastava (1964) and Nayar et ale (1976).

Besides, Benson (1973) worked out the biology of the species infesting stored products with special reference to the population dynamics. Vidal (1979) threw light on the outline of ecology and vegetations, and Spitzer, et ale (1984) dwelt upon the bionomics with reference to the fecundity and long-term variability in abundance of noctuid moths. Spitzer e tal. (1983) also imparted knowledge on the flight activity of some moths monitored by sex pheromones during the dry season. Results of faunistic explorations of the families concerned were achieved from several ecotonal belts in India, viz.• Noctuidae of Kashmir (Boursin, 1954), Rhotang-Pass in North-west Himalaya (Kapur, 1955) and Orissa (MandaI & Maulik, in press); Arctiidae of the Great Nicobar Island (Arora &Singb, 1975), Andaman &Nicobar Islands (Arora, 1983) and Arunachal Pradesh and adjoining areas of Assam in East Himalaya (Arora &Chaudhury, 1982); and Amatidae (= Ctenuchidae) of the Andaman Islands (Arora, 1976, '80). Besides, Bursin (1955) also reported the faunistic account of Noctuidae on the Dutch-Nepal Expedition, while Kapur (1971) dwelt upon the origin and composition of certain Himalayan species of the same family.

All these contributions bear paramount significance from the Zoo-geographical point of view. Amongst other references, Mansingb's (1971) work on the physiological classification ofdormancies in insects may be worth citing.

Studies from Different Environs

A number of eco-faunistic surveys were made at various localities of India by scientists of different institutions, including Z.S.I. These cover many of the known areas sprawling from the mountain to the mangrove-ecosystem and also the major insular belts.

These are indicated in the preceding chapter on Lepidoptera.

Estimation of Taxa

The three families of the Noctuoidea under report comprise a vast assemblage of species. Nootuidae outnumbers all other families of the order Lepidoptera in respect of the taxa composition. As per the known global estimate of the fauna belonging to the three families together, the sum total of the species reaches to an approximate number of J2,OOO (Amatidae : C 2000 spp.: Arctiidae: C 3500 spp.; Noctuidae: C 6500 spp.). As compared to this, the overall fauna of the Indian subregion, with particular reference to post-independent India, still considered with a great potency of faunal resources under almost all the climatic conditions prevailing around the planet, however, represents rather a small fraction, say about 17%. This simply indicates that both intensive and extensive exploration of the core areas of the widespread forests and other ecotonal belts in the country, are yet to be systematically carried out so as to assess the real position of many more species that hitherto remain unknown.

The break-up of the approximately known Indian taxa of the concerned families thus shows that the Amatidae comprises 80 species in 10 genera; Arctiidae, 450 species in 90 genera under nine subfamilies; and Noctuidae, 1500 species in 280 genera in 13 subfamilies. For details of classification at the sub-family level, the works may be consulted on the Arctiidae by Seitz (1910), Daniel (1943, '51, '52, '54) and Kiriakoff (1950) and on the Noctuidae by Hampson (1903-'14) and Seitz (1909-'14).

Classified Treatment

Family Amatidae (= Syntomidae, Ctenuchidae)

The family represents small to medium-seized inactive moths of largely tropico-diurnal habit. Many are brilliantly coloured and mimic the hymenopteran Aculeata and other insects (Kaye, 1913) by virtue of their largely transparent wings and other features. Hampson (1898, 1914), Zerny (1912) and Fletcher (1925) prepared Catalogues, while Seitz, in Seitz (1913, 1933) and Obraztosov (1966) dealt with the Indo-Australian and Palaearctic species of the family. Arora (1980) has dealt Animal Resources ofIndia with the faunistics of the Andaman species. Family Arctiidae

The family includes 'Tiger moths', 'Ermine moths',. 'Footmen', etc., usually with stout body and long, narrow to moderately broad, prominently spotted and brightly colow:ed wings. They are mostly nocturnal, being attracted by light and found predominantly in the tropics. The family is divided into as many as nine subfamilies, of which the Lithosiinae is perhaps the largest. The members are known to feed on low herbage and lichens around tree-trunks, etc. Amongst other references already cited on the family, works of Hampson (1900, 1901, 1914), Strand (1914, 1920), Bryk (1937), Daniel (1943-'54), Kiriakaff (1950) and Arora &Chaudhury (1982) are important. Besides, Nayar, et ale (1976) dealt with the pests on different crops and vegetations related to the applied entomology. Family Noctuidae

The family comprises'Army Worms' 'Boll Worms', 'Cut worms" 'Stemworms', etc., -all these names being derived from the patterns and characteristics of larval behaviour -adults of which are nearly always nocturnal and posses cryptic and sombre colour, especially on fore wings so as to assimilate themselves in the diaposematic posture to their surroundings for protection against the enemies at day time. The family has 13 subfamilies, of which the Acronyctinae is the largest. Its species, which are predominantly tropical in distribution, present a monotonous similarity of structure particularly of wing venation and labial palpi. Their capture is rather easy, since these are very often attracted by light and baits like sugar-mixture, rotten fruits, etc., while others frequent flowers at dusk.

Their habits, specially in early stages, are quite varied, sometimes showing polyphagy on low foliage, fruits, forest trees, lichens and fungi, and sometimes behaving as stem or seed-borers; as serious pests or as predators upon the lac insects, or in the extreme case as blood¬sucking moths. It is also interesting to note that Faure (1943) observed some larvae of 'Army worms' eliciting a "phase" variation in colour analogous to that seen in locusts. Important works amongst others were contributed to the studies on taxonomy, systematics and faunistics by Hampson (1903-'14) Warren, in Seitz (1909-'14), Corti in Seitz (1933), Corti &Draudt, in Seitz (1933) Draudt, in Seitz (1934), Gaede, in Seitz (1937-'38), Kapur &Arora (1971), Watson et ale (1980) and MandaI &Maulik (in press); and on physiological and bionomical aspects by Varshney &Sundaram (1967-'68), Sundaram &Varshney (1969), Varshney et al. (1971), Campion (1976) and Spitzer (1984).

Current Studies

In the Z.S.I., systematics of the concerned families from West Bengal and Meghalaya have been studied. The group has also attracted attention of the scientists from elsewhere in India, as already mentioned in the preceding chapter. It may further be noted that several scientists from abroad, viz., H. Banziger of Thailand, J. D. Holloway of British Museum (N.H.), London, K. Spitzer of Czechoslovakia, R. W. Pools of Smithsonian Inst., U.S.A. and others are actively engaged in diverse fields of systematics of the group with particular reference to the Noctuidae.

Expertise India


G. S. Arora, ZSI, Northern Regional Station, Dehra Dun (U.P.). S. K. Ghosh, D. K. Mandai, I. J. Gupta, D. N. Nandi, D. R. Maulik, &M. Mazumdar; all of ZSI, M-Block, New Alipore, Calcutta 700 053. AmIlti4ae. Arctiidae &Noctuoidae


S. L. Gupta, Division of Entomology, I.A.R.I., New Delhi. [Arctiidae].

H. R. Pajni & H. S. Rose, Dept. of Zoology, Punjab University, Chandigarh. [Noctuidae].


H. Banziger, C/o Swiss Embassy, P. O. Box 821, Bangkok, (Thailand). [Noctuidae]

J. D. Holloway, C/o Commonwealth Instl. of Entomology, British Museum (N. H.) London (U.K.). [Noctuidae].

R. W. Pools, C/o. U.S.D.A. Systematics Entomological Laboratory, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, (U.S.A.) [Noctuidae].

K. Spitzer, Inst Ent. CSAV, Branisovska 31, 37005 Ceske Budejovice (Czechoslovakia) (Noctuidae].

Selected References

Arora, G. S. 1980. The lepidopterous fauna of the Andaman Islands: Family Ctenuchidae. Rec. zool. Surv. India. 77 : 7-23, 5 figs.

Arora, G. S. 1983. On the lepidopterous fauna of Andaman and Nicobar group of Islands (India) : Family Arctiidae. Rec. zool. Surv.lndia~ Occ. Paper No. 60 : 1-49, 6 figs., 3 pis.

Arora, G. S. &Chaudhury, M. 1982. On the lepidopterous fauna of Arunachal Pradesh and adjoining areas of Assam in North-East India: Family Arctiidae. Zool. Surv. India, Tech. Monogr., No.6: 1-65, 3 figs., 4 pIs.

Bryk, F. 1937. Arctiidae : Callimorphinae and Nyctemeriinae. Lepid. Cat., 81 : 1-105.

Daniel, F. 1943-1954. Beitrage Zur Kenntnis der Arctiidae Astasiens unter besoderer Beriicksichtigung der Ausbeuten. H. Hones aus diesens Gebiet (Lep. Het), Part I. Callimorphinae• und Nyctemerinae. Mitt. ent. Ges., 1943, 33 : 247-269; Part II. Hypsinae, Micrarctiinae, Spilosominae, Arctiinae; I. c., pp. 673-758. Part III. Lithosiinae. Bonn. 2001. Beitr., 1951, 2 (3-4) : 291-327; 1952, 3 (1-2) : 75-90; 3 (3-4) : 305-324; 1954, 5 (1-2) : 89-138.

Hampson, G. F. 1898-1914. Catalogue of the Lepidoptera Phalaenae of the British Museum (Natural history), London. l:xxi+559 p., 17 pIs. (1898); 1:xx+589 pp., 18-35 pIs. (1900); 3:xix+690 pp., 36-54 pIs. (1901); 4:xx+689 pp., 55-77 pis, (1903); S:xvi+634 pp., 78-95 pIs. (1905); 6:xiv+532 pp., 96-107 pIs. (1906); 7:xv+692 pp., 108-122 pIs. (1908); 8:xiv+583 pp., 123-134 pIs. (1909); 9:xv+552, 135-147 pis. (1910); 10:xix+829 pp., 148-173 pIs. (1910); II:xvii+689 pp., 174-191 pIs. (1912); 11:xiii+626 pp., 192-221 pIs. (1913); 13:xiv+609 pp., 222-239 pIs. (1913); Suppl. Vol. 1:xxviii+858 pp., 1-41 pis.; Taylor &Francis, London.

Kapur, A. P. &Arora, G. S. 1971. Taxonomic studies on some Indian species of the genus Agrotis Ochsenheimer and allied genera {Noctuidae, Lepidoptera. Rec. %001. Surv. India, 65 (1-4) : 89-166, 25 figs, 2 pIs.

Seitz A. (Ed.) 1909-1938. The Macrolepidoptera of the World, Division I. Fauna Palaearctica, Vols. 2•3 (1909-'14), Suppl. Vol. 3 (1933-'34); Division II : Fauna Exotica, Vols. 7• 11 (1912-'38). [plates issued separately]; A. Kernen, Stuttgart.

See also

Butterflies: India

Lepidoptera Amatidae, Arctiidae &Noctuidae: India

Lepidoptera Cossidae: India

Lepidoptera: India

Mecoptera: India

Neuroptera: India

Strepsiptera: India

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