Melsheimer's Sack Bearer

Cicinnus melsheimeri (Harris, 1841)

Melsheimer's Sack Bearer
Machele White

Insecta (Insects)
State Protection
Not Listed
Not listed or protected by New York State.
Federal Protection
Not Listed
State Conservation Status Rank
Critically Imperiled in New York - Especially vulnerable to disappearing from New York due to extreme rarity or other factors; typically 5 or fewer populations or locations in New York, very few individuals, very restricted range, very few remaining acres (or miles of stream), and/or very steep declines.
Global Conservation Status Rank
Apparently Secure globally - Uncommon in the world but not rare; usually widespread, but may be rare in some parts of its range; possibly some cause for long-term concern due to declines or other factors.


Did you know?

Why are they called "sack bearers?" The larval or caterpillar stage of these moths "bear" cases or sacks in which they live. The sacks can be made out of pieces of leaves that are lined with silk. Later, they will undergo metamorphosis within these sacks.

State Ranking Justification

In New York State, this species is known only from the dwarf pine barrens of Long Island. It has been observed over multiple years at this site, which indicates that the population is viable and is reproducing. However, no other occurrences in New York State have been found.

Short-term Trends

This species appears to be stable on Long Island. Surveys since 1999 have indicated very little change in the dwarf pine barrens population. Forest fires in the dwarf pine plains, especially the very large fire in 1995, resulted in an increase in habitat for this species and a corresponding increase in the population, particularly in burned areas (McGuinness 2006).

Long-term Trends

The long-term trend for this species in New York is unknown. Long Island represents the northern part of its range, so this species has always been rare in New York State. The long-trend for this species is also tied to the long-term trend for the natural community it lives in. The acreage of dwarf pine plains in New York has declined from historical acreage due to settlement, development, and suppression of fires.

Conservation and Management


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 woodland 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.

Conservation Strategies and Management Practices

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 insure that any life stage can survive a fire. McGuinness (2006) found that this species was more abundant in burned areas than unburned areas.

Research Needs

Research is needed on the response of this species to natural and controlled burns. In addition, more surveys are needed with blacklight traps to determine the total extent of the occurrence.



In New York, Melsheimer's Sack Bearer is found exclusively in the dwarf pine barrens of Long Island. This species is found in areas that are dominated by dwarf pitch pine and scrub oak. Its preferred food source is the scrub oak. The larva makes a leaf shelter for itself and moves it as it feeds on leaves. This species has a very small impact on the health of its host trees.

Associated Ecological Communities

  • Dwarf pine plains (guide)
    A woodland community dominated by dwarf individuals of pitch pine and scrub oak that occurs on nearly level outwash sand and gravel plains in eastern Long Island. The soils are infertile, coarse textured sands that are excessively well-drained.

Associated Species

  • Herodias Underwing (Catocala herodias)
  • Jair Underwing (Catocala jair)
  • Packard's Lichen Moth (Cisthene packardii) (guide)
  • Projecta Gray (Cleora projecta) (guide)
  • A Geometrid Moth (Euchlaena madusaria) (guide)
  • Fringed Dart (Eucoptocnemis fimbriaris) (guide)
  • Violet Dart (Euxoa violaris) (guide)
  • Coastal Barrens Buckmoth (Hemileuca maia ssp. 5) (guide)
  • Toothed Apharetra (Sympistis dentata) (guide)


New York State Distribution

This species is historically recorded from the Hempstead Plains and Yaphank. One extant occurrence is known from Southampton, Long Island.

Global Distribution

Melsheimer's Sack Bearer is found from Massachusetts and southern Ontario south to Florida and west to Wisconsin and Texas. It feeds on oaks and is common in sandy oak-pine barrens habitat. Northward, it prefers to feed on scrub oak.

Best Places to See

  • Dwarf pine barrens (Suffolk County)

Identification Comments

Identifying Characteristics

This species can be identified from a good image or any specimen. The wingspan ranges from 35-50 mm. Pictures must show grayish-brown wings with orange shading and black dusting. The forewings also have a dark grayish reniform spot. A key feature is the hooked apex of the forewing (Covell 1984).

Best Time to See

The adults occur for a few weeks in the late spring and early summer. They usually begin to appear around the first week of June.

  • Present
  • Reproducing
  • Larvae present and active

The time of year you would expect to find Melsheimer's Sack Bearer present, reproducing, and larvae present and active in New York.

Melsheimer's Sack Bearer Images


Melsheimer's Sack Bearer
Cicinnus melsheimeri (Harris, 1841)

  • Kingdom Animalia
    • Phylum Arthropoda (Mandibulates)
      • Class Insecta (Insects)
        • Order Lepidoptera (Butterflies, Skippers, and Moths)
          • Family Mimallonidae

Additional Resources


Covell, Charles V. 1984. A field guide to the moths of eastern North America. Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston.

Forbes, William T. M. 1960. Lepidoptera of New York and neighboring states part IV. Cornell University Experiment Station Memoir 371.

Holland, W.J. 1968. The moth book. Dover Publications, NY, 479 pp. An unabridged version first published in 1903 by Doubleday, Page, and Co.

Jordan, M. 1998. Ecological effect of a large and severe summer wildfire in the Long Island dwarf pine barrens. Unpublished report. The Nature Conservancy, Long Island Chapter, Cold Spring Harbor, NY.

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 D. 2009. Moths of fire: a study of the macro-lepidoptera in burned and unburned plots at the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation's Sarnoff Preserve in Flanders, Suffolk County, New York. 2006-2008. Report for the Long Island Chapter of The Nature Conservancy.

McGuinness, Hugh. 2006. Overview of the 2005 Dwarf Pine Plains data.

Mississippi Entomological Museum. No date. Mississippi State University. Mississippi.

NatureServe. 2010. NatureServe Explorer: An online encyclopedia of life [web application]. Version 7.1. NatureServe, Arlington, Virginia. Available (Data last updated August 2010)

New York Natural Heritage Program. 2024. New York Natural Heritage Program Databases. Albany, NY.

North American Moth Photographers Group at the Mississippi Entomological Museum. No date. Mississippi State University, Mississippi.

Opler, Paul A., Kelly Lotts, and Thomas Naberhaus, coordinators. 2010. Butterflies and Moths of North America. Bozeman, MT: Big Sky Institute. <> (accessed May 2010).

Schweitzer, Dale F. 1998. Rare, potentially rare, and historic macrolepidoptera for Long Island, New York: A suggested inventory list.

Wagner, David L., Valerie Giles, Richard C. Reardon, and Michael L.McManus. 1997. Caterpillars of eastern forests. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Forest Health Technology Enterprise Team, Morgantown, West Virginia. FHTET-96-34. 113 pp. Jamestown, ND: Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center Online. (Version 11APR2001).


About This Guide

This guide was authored by: Lauren Lyons-Swift

Information for this guide was last updated on: December 17, 2011

Please cite this page as:
New York Natural Heritage Program. 2024. Online Conservation Guide for Cicinnus melsheimeri. Available from: Accessed May 26, 2024.