Pine Barrens Zale

Zale lunifera (Hübner, 1818)

Pine Barrens Zale
Hugh D. McGuinness

Insecta (Insects)
State Protection
Not Listed
Not listed or protected by New York State.
Federal Protection
Not Listed
State Conservation Status Rank
Unrankable - Currently unrankable due to lack of information or due to substantially conflicting information about status or trends.
Global Conservation Status Rank
Vulnerable globally, or Apparently Secure - At moderate risk of extinction, with relatively few populations or locations in the world, few individuals, and/or restricted range; or uncommon but not rare globally; may be rare in some parts of its range; possibly some cause for long-term concern due to declines or other factors. More information is needed to assign either G3 or G4.


Did you know?

The word "zale" is Greek for wave. The person who originally named this genus, Hubner in 1818, thought the pattern on the wings of this moth resembled waves.

State Ranking Justification

The pine barrens zale is a habitat specialist, requiring a specific type of habitat- extensive scrub oak barrens areas. Presently, this species is known only from two locations on Long Island. Future inventories may locate this species at other pitch pine-scrub oak barren type habitats on Long Island and possibly off the coastal plain.

Short-term Trends

This species appears to be stable on Long Island. Surveys conducted since 1989 have indicated little change in the population, with the exception of the 2005 survey, which showed a dramatic increase in numbers of moths found. It is unclear what caused this sudden increase, but forest fires in the dwarf pine plains may have resulted in an increase in habitat for this species.

Long-term Trends

The long-term trend for this species in New York is unknown. However, it is 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 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 drop 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 (Jordan et al. 2003, Little 1979). 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 it 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. In addition, minimizing lighting to maintain dark sky conditions would be beneficial.

Research Needs

The response of this species to management practices such as controlled burns and mechanical removal of vegetation should be evaluated.



This moth species requires extensive scrub oak barrens. In New York, it inhabits a pitch pine-scrub oak barrens, and the edge between a maritime heathland and maritime dunes and/or sea level fen.

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.
  • Maritime heathland (guide)
    A dwarf shrubland community that occurs on rolling outwash plains and moraine of the glaciated portion of the Atlantic coastal plain, near the ocean and within the influence of onshore winds and salt spray.
  • Pitch pine-oak-heath woodland (guide)
    A pine barrens community that occurs on well-drained, infertile, sandy soils. The structure of this community is intermediate between a shrub-savanna and a woodland. Pitch pine and white oak are the most abundant trees.

Associated Species

  • Burgess's Apamea (Apamea burgessi) (guide)
  • Herodias Underwing (Catocala herodias)
  • Jair Underwing (Catocala jair)
  • Melsheimer's Sack Bearer (Cicinnus melsheimeri) (guide)
  • Packard's Lichen Moth (Cisthene packardii) (guide)
  • Projecta Gray (Cleora projecta) (guide)
  • Pine Tussock Moth (Dasychira pinicola) (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)
  • Yellow-spotted Graylet (Hyperstrotia flaviguttata) (guide)
  • Pale Green Pinion Moth (Lithophane viridipallens) (guide)
  • Pin-striped Slug Moth (Monoleuca semifascia) (guide)
  • Gray Woodgrain (Morrisonia mucens) (guide)
  • Pink Sallow (Psectraglaea carnosa) (guide)
  • Spinose Flower Moth (Schinia spinosae) (guide)
  • Barrens Itame (Speranza exonerata) (guide)
  • Gordian Sphinx (Sphinx gordius) (guide)
  • Toothed Apharetra (Sympistis dentata) (guide)
  • Orange Holomelina (Virbia aurantiaca) (guide)


New York State Distribution

This species is restricted to Long Island, where it is currently documented from two sites in Suffolk County.

Global Distribution

The pine barrens zale occurs at a few high-quality, large (almost all more than 1,000 hectares) barrens sites per state in Maine, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, New York (Long Island), and Pennsylvania. The species is somewhat more widespread in the core of the New Jersey Pine Barrens. It also occurs at one site in the Virginia mountains. Apparently identical specimens have been examined from Florida, although the species has not been found in any collections examined from the Carolinas or Georgia.

Best Places to See

  • Dwarf Pine Barrens (Suffolk County)

Identification Comments

Identifying Characteristics

The pine barrens zale is a gray moth that is difficult to identify. It must be confirmed by an expert in moth identification. Its forewings are mottled with dark and pale grays, with brownish-black areas at the base and tip. Each forewing contains a thick, brown line on the inner portion of the wing; a thin, wavy line on the outer portion of the wing; a long, thin, yellowish-brown, reniform spot; and a small black spot. The hind wings have dark and pale gray bands. The wingspan is 30-34 mm.

Characters Most Useful for Identification

Moth size, and forewing shape and markings are the most useful characters for identification (Schmidt 2010).

Best Life Stage for Proper Identification

The adult is the best life stage for identification. The larvae look similar to those of some other species in the genus.


Adults and larvae (at least later larval stages) are nocturnal. Larvae hide at the base of their foodplants, scrubby oaks, or in nearby litter during the day. In New York, adults fly from mid-May until mid-June. Eggs hatch less than two weeks after they are laid. Larvae occur in spring and pupate in summer. Pupae overwinter, and adult moths emerge in May.


Larvae eat new growth of scrubby oaks. The diet of adults is unknown.

Best Time to See

In New York, the best time to see pine barrens zale is during their flight season, from mid-May until mid-June.

  • Reproducing
  • Larvae present and active
  • Pupae or prepupae present

The time of year you would expect to find Pine Barrens Zale reproducing, larvae present and active, and pupae or prepupae present in New York.

Pine Barrens Zale Images


Pine Barrens Zale
Zale lunifera (Hübner, 1818)

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

Comments on the Classification

This species is illustrated in Field Guide to the Moths (as Zale lunifera). Compare this figure to Holland's (1903) illustration of the actual Z. lunifera (XXXVII:17) (NatureServe 2010). Alternatively, Schmidt (2010) believes that Z. intenta (Walker), stat. rev., is the species formerly called Z. lunifera and that Z. lunifera is the species sometimes referred to as Z. sp. 1 nr. lunifera.

Additional Resources


Covell, C.V., Jr. 1984. A field guide to the moths of eastern North America. Houghton Mifflin Co. Boston, MA. 496 pp.

Holland, W. J. 1903. The moth book. A guide to the moths of North America. Doubleday, Page & company, New York. 479 pp.

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 (Data last updated August 2010)

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

Schmidt, B.C. 2010. Taxonomic reassessment of Zale lunifera (Hubner) (Erebidae, Erebinae). In: Schmidt, B.C. and J.D. Lafontaine (Eds) Contributions to the systematics of New World macro-moths II. ZooKeys 39:99-106.

Wagner, D. L., D. F. Schweitzer, J. B. Sullivan, and R. C. Reardon. 2008. Owlet Caterpillars of Eastern North America (Lepidoptera: Noctudiae)

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.


About This Guide

This guide was authored by: Andrea Chaloux

Information for this guide was last updated on: February 7, 2012

Please cite this page as:
New York Natural Heritage Program. 2024. Online Conservation Guide for Zale lunifera. Available from: Accessed July 19, 2024.