Moths of North Carolina
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7 NC Records

Sthenopis auratus Grote, 1878 - Gold-spotted Ghost Moth

Superfamily: Hepialoidea Family: HepialidaeSubfamily: [Hepialinae]Tribe: [Hepialini]P3 Number: 110019.00 MONA Number: 22.00
Comments: Sthenopis auratus is a member of the Ghost Moth, or Swift family, a primitive group of over 500 species that is found worldwide. In North America the family is made up of at least 20 species in four genera, the vast majority having northerly or westerly affinities. S. argenteomaculatus is one of four species currently recognized in the genus, and one of two found in North Carolina.
Field Guide Descriptions: Beadle and Leckie (2012)Online Photographs: MPG, BugGuide, GBIF, BOLDTechnical Description, Adults: Forbes (1923)Technical Description, Immature Stages: McCabe & Wagner (1989)                                                                                 
Adult Markings: The proportionally long forewings are narrow at the base, widen broadly just past the middle, then narrow again to pointed, slightly falcate tips. They are orange to orange-brown with umber shading along the inner margin and costa, and through the post-median area. In fresh condition the forewings show a variety of pale pink markings, including a wavy band that runs from the costa through the post-median area to the inner margin, and pink shading at the anal angle and along the costa. There is a prominent, sub-costal gold trapezoid at the mid-point of the forewing, one or two small gold spots at the base, a row of small gold spots along the outer margin, and a band of discrete but connected gold spots in the terminal area. Darker veins stand out on the forewing. When illuminated, the forewings reflect a strong gold iridescence. The thin forewings wear easily, quickly obscuring the coloration pattern, though the presence of gold spots and overall size and shape should permit relatively straightforward identification on worn individuals. The hindwings are uniformly light orange to tan, and are approximately the same shape and length as the forewings. This species is differentiated from S. argenteomaculatus by a less contrasting forewing pattern and the presence of gold rather than white spots.
Wingspan: 50 mm (Forbes, 1923)
Adult Structural Features: Like others in the genus, the antennae are greatly reduced and simple, and are borne on a proportionally very small head.
Adult ID Requirements: Identifiable from good quality photos of unworn specimens.
Immatures and Development: The larvae bore in the rootstock of several species of ferns and are unlikely to be observed. The late instar caterpillar is largely naked and reaches a length of 47 mm. On the thoracic segments, there are short, fine, and scattered setae that emanate from brown to yellow-brown, plate-like pinacula. On the abdominal segments, these setae are located sub-dorsally and dorsally, the latter emanating largely from enlarged, knobby pinacula along the mid-line. The head is orange. The larvae have a distinct bicolored appearance due to the white thoracic segments that contrast with the rusty abdominal segments (McCabe & Wagner, 1989). In New York, the life cycle takes two years to complete (Wagner, 1989).
Larvae ID Requirements: Identifiable from good quality photos, especially where associated with known host plants.
Distribution in North Carolina
Distribution: Sthenopis auratus occurs from the northeastern US southwestward along the Appalachians to northern Georgia. There is at least one apparently disjunct population in the Great Lakes region. In North Carolina, populations appear to be restricted to 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: All of our records are from June.
Habitats and Life History
Habitats: Habitat at the sites where this species has been recorded in North Carolina are undescribed. However, given the host plants used by this species, local populations likely inhabit mesic hardwoods, including cove forests and northern hardwood forests.
Larval Host Plants: The known hosts include the Ostrich Fern (Matteuccia struthiopteris), Marginal Wood-fern (Dryopteris marginalis), Mountain Wood-fern (D. campyloptera), and Lady Ferns (Athyrium spp.; McCabe & Wagner, 1989). - View
Observation Methods: Early literature erroneously reported that this family is not attracted to light. In North Carolina the species has been collected in traps and photographed at sheets that used ultraviolet and mercury vapor lights.
Status in North Carolina
Natural Heritage Program Status: [W3]
Natural Heritage Program Ranks: G3G4 [SU]
State Protection: Has no legal protection, although permits are required to collect it in state parks and on other public lands.
Comments: Little is known about the true status of this species in North Carolina. It is likely uncommon to rare in the southern Appalachians. The dearth of records may be more an artifact of poor observer coverage, perhaps combined with the species crepuscular habits, rather than a reflection of its true status. Like other members of the family Hepialidae, much remains to be learned about it in the state.

 Photo Gallery for Sthenopis auratus - Gold-spotted Ghost Moth

Photos: 2

Recorded by: Richard Teper on 2022-06-14
Jackson Co.
Recorded by: Parker Backstrom on 2011-06-19
Watauga Co.