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Sad Underwing Moth (Catocala maestosa)

Sad Underwing Moth

Catocala mastosa

(Order Lepidoptera; Family Noctuidae)

Catocala maestosa, adult (photo by Rachel Stone)

(Kansas: Sedgwick County. Pawnee Prairie Park, 37°39'18''N, 97°27'18''W. On Oak trunk.

September 12, 2013.)


Adult Diagnosis:

Adults have impressive wingspans (78-98 mm) and are among some of the largest Noctuids found in south central Kansas.  The Sad Underwing is stout-bodied and of a dull brown and black color.  The forewings are cryptic and allow the moth to remain well-camouflaged on the bark of several tree species.  Distinguishing characters of the forewing include: a brown reniform spot, tan shading just outside of the postmedial line,  and a black arc from the costa to the outer margin of the wing.  The hindwing is black with a white fringe.

Adult Catocala maestosa (center) camouflaged on trunk of an Oak tree (photo by Rachel Stone)

(Kansas: Sedgwick County. Pawnee Prairie Park, 37°39'18''N, 97°27'18''W. September 12, 2013.)


Natural History:

The larval and adult stages of Catocala maestosa are both characterized by their nocturnal behavior.  Adults can typically be found from April to November.  During the day, the adults rest against tree bark with their head almost always pointing towards the ground.  At night the adults seek a mate; the female emits a pheromone, while the male detects and tracks her with his sensitive antennae.

After mating, the female deposits her eggs directly on the crevices within the bark of a preferred larval food source (these include, but are not limited to: Walnut, Pecan, and Hickory trees).  The eggs are quite hardy and overwinter from fall to the following spring.

Larvae emerge from the eggs in the spring and make their way up to the tree’s leaves to feed.  The larvae are also cryptic and during the day camouflage themselves among the branches and twigs.  Once ready, the larvae head down the tree trunk to metamorphose.  They pupate at the surface soil, where a new adult emerges to repeat the life cycle.

Larva of Catocala maestosa hidden within the crevices of tree bark (copyright by Gretchen Grammer:



Catocala maestosa is distributed throughout the eastern United States from New York to Florida.  The species is not commonly found any further west than Kansas.  Within Kansas, they are typically found in the eastern half of the state.

Distribution of Catocala maestosa in the North America. Map created by



Within its range in the US, the species can be found in riparian wooded areas.



The larva of Catocala maestosa can be found feeding on the leaves of Hickory, Walnut (Juglans spp.), and Pecan (Carya spp.) trees.


Conservation Status: Stable



Ilia Underwing Moth Caterpillar (Catocala ilia)

Description: A closely related Underwing Moth (Catocala spp.) showing its cryptic coloration.



Bug Guide: Species Catocala maestosa - Sad Underwing:


American Insects:

Butterflies and Moths of North America: Species Catocala maestosa - Sad Underwing:



Salsbury, G.A. and S.C. White. 2000. Insects in Kansas. Kansas Department of Agriculture.

Brock, J.P. and K. Kaufman. 2003. Butterflies of North America. Houghton Mifflin Company, New York, NY.

Covell, C.V. A Field Guide to Moths of Easten North America. 1984. Houghton Mifflin Company, New York, NY.


Submitted by: Rachel Stone, November 2013

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