Moths of North Carolina
Scientific Name:
Common Name:
Family (Alpha):
« »
View PDFColeophoridae Members: 3 NC Records

Coleophora trifolii (Curtis, 1832) - Large Clover Casebearer Moth

Superfamily: Gelechioidea Family: ColeophoridaeSubfamily: ColeophorinaeTribe: [Coleophorini]P3 Number: 421647.00 MONA Number: 1388.00
Comments: The genus Coleophora is one of the most taxonomically challenging groups in North America. With only a few exceptions, most species cannot be identified based on photographs or external characters. The shape of the larval cases and host plants are very useful in identifying species, and high-quality dissections of genitalia are essential to recognize the majority of species. There are numerous species complexes with many undescribed species, and the taxonomy of Nearctic species remains largely unresolved.
Species Status: Coleophora trifolii was introduced sometime shortly before the mid-1960's and has become a pest of sweetclover that is commercially grown in southern Ontario (Landry and Wright, 1993).
Field Guide Descriptions: Beadle and Leckie (2012)Online Photographs: MPG, BugGuide, iNaturalist, Google, BAMONA                                                                                 
Adult Markings: Adults of C. trifolii are the largest of the metallic-green group, and are among the largest North American coleophorids. The following is based on the description by Landry and Wright (1993). The frons is pale yellow or silvery yellow with a brassy sheen, and the vertex and collar brilliant metallic brassy green. The post-ocular scales, which are hair-like scales immediately behind the eye, are pale yellow. The labial palp is olive gray with a brassy or silvery sheen. The scape of the antenna is metallic brassy green with a purplish tinge. The flagellum is uniformly olive brown, except for the white tip on the apical one-fifth. The thickened semi-erect scales of the antenna are rather inconspicuous, and are only present on the scape and base of the flagellum in the female, and only on the scape in the male. The thorax is brilliant brassy green above. The forewing is a brilliant metallic brassy green, and the apical portion has a reddish purplish sheen. The hindwing surface is shiny olive gray or olive brown, and the cilia are dark olive brown. The legs are brassy silvery, and the outer surface of the hind leg has a reddish sheen in females. This species is externally similar to C. deauratella, but is larger on average, has pale yellow post-ocular scales (dark brown in C. deauratella), and has brighter and lighter green forewings. In addition, the thickened base of the antenna is shorter relative to that of C. deauratella.
Forewing Length: 6.8-9.3 mm for males; 6.0-8.5 mm for females
Adult Structural Features: Landry and Wright (1993) provide detailed descriptions and illustrations of the male and female genitalia, which are distinctive.
Adult ID Requirements: Identifiable from photos showing hindwings, abdomen, or other specialized views [e.g., frons, palps, antennae, undersides].
Immatures and Development: The larvae feed on the developing seeds of sweetclover. The eggs are laid on the flowers, and the larvae and cases are present in seed heads in August and early September (Landry and Wright, 1993). The nearly fully grown larvae overwinter inside the cases on the ground. The larvae often wander after the spring warm-up in search of pupation sites. The adults eclose locally when the host plant is in bloom. The mature cases are around 7.0-8.5 mm long and are cigar-shaped with a trivalved apex. The surface is rough and black or blackish gray. The immature cases are first constructed out of a young hollowed out seed pod. Subsequently, up to three are strung up like beads. The intermediate case is paler gray, and ornamented with bracts from the immature seeds. The final case is constructed from a hollowed-out mature seed pod of the host plant (Landry and Wright, 1993).
Distribution in North Carolina
Distribution: Coleophora trifolii is native to Europe, northern Africa, and in the Middle East to Afghanistan. It was first documented in North America in the mid-1960's (Landry and Wright 1993), and is now widespread in much of southern Canada and the US east of the Rockies. As of 2021, all of our records are from the Piedmont and lower elevations in the mountains.
County Map: Clicking on a county returns the records for the species in that county.
Flight Dates:
 High Mountains (HM) ≥ 4,000 ft.
 Low Mountains (LM) < 4,000 ft.
 Piedmont (Pd)
 Coastal Plain (CP)

Click on graph to enlarge
Flight Comments: Local populations are univoltine. The adults are active from May through September in areas outside of North Carolina, with a strong seasonal peak in June and July. As of 2021, our records are from June and July.
Habitats and Life History
Habitats: The moths require sweetclover as a food source. These introduced species are common in open habitats such as along roadsides, in old fields, along the edges of agricultural fields, and in waste places.
Larval Host Plants: The larvae feed on species of sweetclover (Melilotus spp., including Yellow Sweetclover (Melilotus officinalis).
Observation Methods: The adults are attracted to lights, and are active during the day around the host plants. They are commonly seen perched on flowers of the host plant, but they are very skittish and will take to the wing at the slightest disturbance.
Status in North Carolina
Natural Heritage Program Status:
Natural Heritage Program Ranks: GNR SNA
State Protection: Has no legal protection, although permits are required to collect it on state parks and other public lands.
Comments: This is an introduced species that does not merit protection.

 Photo Gallery for Coleophora trifolii - Large Clover Casebearer Moth

Photos: 4

Recorded by: Gary Maness on 2019-06-04
Guilford Co.
Recorded by: Gary Maness on 2019-06-04
Guilford Co.
Recorded by: Gary Maness on 2019-06-04
Guilford Co.
Recorded by: B. Bockhahn, K. Kittelberger, P. Scharf on 2015-06-18
Watauga Co.