This species inhabits pitch pine-scrub oak communities with sandy soil, but may also be present in habitat with an acidic rock substrate.
This species is probably still somewhat widespread on Long Island, but it is unknown how many populations remain there, but at least one globally significant occurrence still remains. Similarly, it is possible that additional occurrences could be found in the southeastern mainland counties. There are possibly 5 to 20 populations left in New York, but only two or three of these have been recently documented.
Short-term trends indicate that the population is stable.
Long-term trends indicate that the population has undergone a substantial to large decline (50% to 90% decline).
The threats are difficult to assess since some habitats are more management dependent than others. This species should do well with any reasonable fire management program as long as all of the habitat is not burned at once. However, wild fires that could consume the entire occupied habitat are a threat, especially on ridegtops and in small isolated habitats. Gypsy moth (Lymantria dispar) spraying could be a threat. It would be with chemical biocides and potentially would be with Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis - a bacterial biological control used on gypsy moth caterpillars). The closely related Scarlet Underwing (Catocala coccinata) is very sensitive to Bt, but many Catocala are not (Peacock et al. 1998). However, unusually early defoliation, before about 10 June, of scrub oaks on hilltops and ridges could itself annihilate a population (see Schweitzer 2004).
Substantial refugia (unburned patches) are needed when fires burn the habitat, since survival in burned areas is minimal. Habitats supporting this species should be protected from gypsy moth (Lymantria dispar) spraying. However, if severe defoliation is likely before about 10 June, then starvation is a risk and it might be prudent to use Bt to reduce defoliation on a portion of the habitat. Starvation of the entire brood is possible if all of the scrub oak foliage is consumed during May. Such early defoliation is not common and is unlikely to occur widely on coastal barrens, but it can occur on outcrops and ridgetops. It is unlikely Bt would kill all of the larvae, but it seems likely it would kill a majority of them.
It would be useful to know how sensitive larvae are to Bt and exactly when most of the larvae finish feeding, so that risks from starvation as compared to Bt applications could be better evaluated in severe gypsy moth outbreaks.
This species is exclusively found in pitch pine-scrub oak communities, usually on sand, but sometimes on acidic rocks in the lower Hudson Valley. In some other parts of the range there may be few enough pitch pines that sites could be be considered shrublands rahther than wooded.
This underwing was at least formerly widespread on Long Island and probably still occurs in most extensive pitch pine-scrub oak communities in Suffolk County. This species has been documented in Orange County, although it probably does not occur on many sites on the mainland, but it could turn up in a few more nearby counties.
This moth is found mostly in four main areas: the Cape Cod region and adjacent islands of Massachusetts, the Long Island, New York pine barrens, the core of the New Jersey Pine Barrens in Ocean, Burlington, and extreme northern Atlantic Counties (one specimen from Cape May County), and in the mountains from eastern West Virginia to far western North Carolina. Isolated populations are known on two ridgetops in Berkshire County, Massachusetts (Wagner 1998, McCabe 1998) and at least one such ridgetop in the lower Hudson Valley, New York. The extent and continuity of the Appalachian range is unknown. There is a gap in the range across Pennsylvania, but the species could turn up in the shale barrens areas of southcentral Pennsylvania and adjacent Maryland.
The adult is distinctive and can be identified from a specimen or a photograph. See any illustration, such as shown in Covell (1984). When the moth is at rest under a bush, it appears as a clump of dead pine needles on white sand. The larva are very similar to the Scarlet Underwing (Catocala coccinata).
The forewing pattern is unique and the reddish hindwing is similar to only a few species of moths. On the forewing, note the poorly developed normal lines, strongly contrasting whitish costa (leading edge), and the dark and whitish linear striations on the outer portion of the wing.
The adult is best for identification.
The adults rest near the base of scrub oak (Quercus ilicifolia) or other bushes or on the sand underneath these bushes. A Catocala flushed off the ground in a barrens community will almost always be this species.
The larvae feed almost exclusively on spring growth of scrub oak (Quercus ilicifolia) in the wild, except that blackjack oak (Quercus marilandica) might also be used on Long Island.
This is one of the earlier flying Catocala. The adults occur primarily from mid-July into August, probably about the same time in all parts of the New York range, and it is likely that a few adults persist into the second half of August in most years. Catocala have notably long pupal periods, often about as long as the larval period, and pupae are present into July.
The time of year you would expect to find Herodias or Pine Barrens Underwing reproducing, larvae present and active, eggs present outside adult, and pupae or prepupae present in New York.
Herodias or Pine Barrens Underwing
Catocala herodias gerhardi Barnes and Benjamin, 1927
Allen, T.J., J.P. Brock, and J. Glassberg. 2005. Caterpillars in the field and garden. Oxford University Press, New York. 232 pp.
Brock, J. P., and K. Kaufman. 2003. Butterflies of North America. Kaufman Focus Field Guides, Houghton Mifflin Company, New York, NY 284 pp.
Covell, C.V., Jr. 1984. A field guide to the moths of eastern North America. Houghton Mifflin Co. Boston, MA. 496 pp.
Forbes, W. T. M. 1954. Lepidoptera of New York and Neighboring States, Noctuidae, Part III. Memoir 329. Cornell Agricultural Experiment Station. Ithaca, NY.
Forbes, William T. M. 1954. Lepidoptera of New York and neighboring states part III. Cornell University Experiment Station Memoir 329.
New York Natural Heritage Program. 2021. New York Natural Heritage Program Databases. Albany, NY.
O'Donnell, J.E., L.F. Gall., and D.L. Wagner, eds. 2007. The Connecticut Butterfly Atlas. State Geological and Natural History Survey of Connecticut, Department of Environmental Protection, Hartford. 376 pp.
Peacock, J. W., D. F. Schweitzer, J. L. Carter, and N. R. Dubois. 1998. Laboratory Assessment of the effects of Bacillus thuringiensis on native Lepidoptera. Environmental Entomology 27(2):450-457.
Sargent, T. D. 1976. Legion of Night: The Underwing Moths. University of Massachusetts Press, Amherst, MA. 222 pp. and 8 plates.
Schweitzer, Dale F. 2004. Gypsy Moth (Lymantria dispar): impacts and options for biodiversity-oriented land managers. NatureServe, Arlington, Virginia. NatureServe Explorer. Online. Available: http://www.natureserve.org/explorer/
Information for this guide was last updated on: November 8, 2011
Please cite this page as:
New York Natural Heritage Program. 2021. Online Conservation Guide for Catocala herodias gerhardi. Available from: https://guides.nynhp.org/herodias-or-pine-barrens-underwing/. Accessed January 16, 2021.