This moth species belongs to a group called the Dart or Cutworm Moths. They are given those names for good reasons. When resting, the moths hold their wings back in a triangular "dart-like" position. They also cut plant stems off at the base by chewing on them near the soil level.
The Gray Woodgrain is a barrens specialist. Currently, in New York State, this species is known from Napeague State Park and the dwarf pine barrens on Long Island. Future inventories may locate this species at other pine barrens type habitats on Long Island and possibly off the coastal plain.
This species appears to be stable on Long Island. Surveys since 1993 have indicated very little change in the dwarf pine barrens population on Long Island, with the exception of 2005 surveys, which showed a significant increase in numbers of moths. It is possible that previous forest fires in the dwarf pine plains caused an increase in habitat for this species.
The long-term trend for this species is tied to the long-term trend of the natural community it lives in. The acreage of dwarf pine plains in New York has declined from development, although there is still a large occurrence of this habitat type on Long Island.
Known threats include habitat loss due to development and fire suppression, although the threat of development for the remaining habitat on Long Island may be low. The suppression of fires in barrens and other dry places would cause a loss of habitat for the species and therefore a reduction in population size. This species requires open woodlands or barrens with pitch pine and scrub oaks. Forest fires are needed, on average, every 5-10 years (Jordan et al. 2003) to maintain this type of habitat. Lack of fires will result in the succession of this community to a closed-canopy forest of tall oaks and other hardwoods (Little 1979, Jordan et al. 2003). Conversely, a fire affecting an entire occurrence could eliminate all life stages that are present.
The best management strategy for this species is the management of the natural community, or habitat, where this species occurs. Maintaining the Long Island pine barrens with their full suite of plant and animal species requires frequent (every few decades) disturbance to maintain open-canopy, shrub-dominated communities and to prevent succession to a closed-canopy hardwood forest (Jordan et al. 2003). Researchers have determined that "an active fire management program utilizing prescribed fire with appropriate mechanical treatments" is the preferred method (Jordan et al. 2003). Researchers have also determined that the size, type, intensity, and timing of fires (pyrodiversity) needs to be evaluated for each site to maximize benefits to the natural community and the species it supports (Jordan et al. 2003). The entire occupied habitat for a population should not be burned in a single year. For example, in places where prescribed burning is used, refugia (unburned areas) are needed for many species to ensure that any life stage can survive a fire.
Additional surveys are needed with bait and blacklight traps to determine the extent of the dwarf pine barrens occurrence on Long Island. In addition, research is needed on the response of this species to prescribed (controlled) burning and mechanical treatment to improve habitat.
In New York State, this species is found exclusively in the open-canopy dwarf pine barrens and pitch pine-oak heath woodlands of Long Island. Pitch pine and scrub oak are the dominant plant species in both of these habitats. It is suspected that the larval food source is scrub oak.
The Gray Woodgrain appears to be restricted to coastal plain pine barrens, indicating that in New York State it would be limited to Long Island, although it might possibly also be located off the coastal plain.
The Gray Woodgrain is known from Long Island, New York, south to Florida, and west to Ohio and Texas (Covell 1984).
The forewing of the Gray Woodgrain is mixed gray and brown. Look for two blackish triangular patches at the outer margin (Covell 1984).
The adults of this species are active in the late spring.
The time of year you would expect to find Gray Woodgrain present and reproducing in New York.
Morrisonia mucens (Hübner, )
Covell, Charles V. 1984. A field guide to the moths of eastern North America. Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston.
Forbes, William T. M. 1954. Lepidoptera of New York and neighboring states part III. Cornell University Experiment Station Memoir 329.
Jordan, M. J., W. A. Patterson III, A. G. Windisch. 2003. Conceptual ecological models for the Long Island pitch pine barrens: implications for managing rare plant communities. Forest Ecology and Management 185, 151-168.
Little, S. 1979. Fire and plant succession in the New Jersey pine barrens. pp. 297-313 in Forman, R.T.T. (ed.) Pine Barrens: Ecosystem and Landscape. Academic Press, Inc. Orlando, FL.
McGuinness, Hugh. 2006. Overview of the 2005 Dwarf Pine Plains data.
NatureServe. 2010. NatureServe Explorer: An online encyclopedia of life [web application]. Version 7.1. NatureServe, Arlington, Virginia. Available http://www.natureserve.org/explorer. (Data last updated August 2010)
New York Natural Heritage Program. 2023. New York Natural Heritage Program Databases. Albany, NY.
North American Moth Photographers Group at the Mississippi Entomological Museum. No date. Mississippi State University, Mississippi. http://mothphotographersgroup.msstate.edu/MainMenu.shtml
Wagner, David L., Nelson, Michael W., and Schweitzer, Dale F. 2003. Shrubland Lepidoptera of southern New England and southeastern New York: ecology, conservation, and management. Forest Ecology and Management 185: 95-112.
This guide was authored by: Lauren Lyons-Swift
Information for this guide was last updated on: December 19, 2011
Please cite this page as:
New York Natural Heritage Program. 2023. Online Conservation Guide for Morrisonia mucens. Available from: https://guides.nynhp.org/gray-woodgrain/. Accessed February 5, 2023.