Moths of North Carolina
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View PDFGracillariidae Members:
Caloptilia Members:
16 NC Records

Caloptilia invariabilis (Braun, 1927) - Cherry Leaf-cone Caterpillar Moth

Superfamily: Gracillarioidea Family: GracillariidaeSubfamily: GracillariinaeTribe: [Gracillariini]P3 Number: 330131.00 MONA Number: 609.00
Comments: Caloptilia is a large genus with nearly 300 described species; 64 species have been described from North America north of Mexico. The larvae mostly feed on woody plants and begin as leaf-mining sap-feeders. The latter instars usually exit the mines and feed within a conical roll that begins at the leaf apex or at the tip of a leaf lobe.
Field Guide Descriptions: Online Photographs: MPG, BugGuide, GBIF, BOLDTechnical Description, Immature Stages: (Braun 1927, 1935; Eiseman 2019).                                                                                 
Adult Markings: The adults are rather uniformly colored on the forewings, upper thorax, upper head, and labial palps with deep saffron. Crimson and pale blue reflections are sometimes evident on the forewings, and the costal margin is often lighter than the remainder of the forewing. Some specimens have a row of minute brown costal specks (Eiseman, 2019). The tibia and femur of the front and middle leg are dark reddish fuscous to black, and are noticeably darker than the forewing ground color. The tarsi are white with dark spots near the tarsal joints and varying amounts of fuscous dusting. The rear legs are lighter than the front and middle legs and uniformly dusted with fuscous coloration.
Wingspan: 16.5-17.6 mm (eastern TN specimens; Braun, 1935)
Adult ID Requirements: Identifiable from good quality photos of unworn specimens.
Immatures and Development: The mine is a very indistinct, whitish, linear mine that ends in a small underside blotch, with the parenchyma consumed and the epidermis somewhat wrinkled. When the mine is at the leaf margin, the edge is folded under. Upon exiting the mine, the larva rolls the leaf downward from the tip, forming a cone (Braun 1927; Eiseman 2019). Braun (1935) observed larvae in the Great Smoky Mountains in Tennessee that made a small initial cone before making the typical larger cone. The cocoon is spun outside the cone.
Distribution in North Carolina
Distribution: Specimens that conform to the description of C. invariabilis has been found in scattered localities in the West in British Columbia, Washington and California. This species is more broadly distributed in eastern North America from southern Canada southward to eastern Tennessee and western North Carolina (Eiseman, 2019; BugGuide; iNaturalist). Other than Buncombe Co. (iNaturalist), most records for North Carolina are from moderate to high elevations in the Blue Ridge and include Madison, Avery, and Watauga counties (BugGuide).
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: Our very limited records for North Carolina indicate a flight season from June through late October.
Habitats and Life History
Habitats: Populations in North Carolina appear to be common at higher elevations, perhaps because of the strong reliance of this species on Fire Cherry.
Larval Host Plants: Caloptilia invariabilis specializes on Prunus species, particularly Fire Cherry (P. pensylvanica). Braun (1935) found specimens on Chickasaw Plum (P. angustifolia) in the Great Smoky Mountains, while Robinson et al. (2002) listed P. serotina and P. virginiana as hosts for Canadian populations (Eiseman, 2019). - View
Observation Methods: Adults are attracted to UV lights. Larvae can be located by searching for curled leaf-tips on Fire Cherry or other Prunus species in the mountains.
See also Habitat Account for Montane Rosaceous Thickets
Status in North Carolina
Natural Heritage Program Status:
Natural Heritage Program Ranks: GNR S3S4
State Protection: Has no legal protection, although permits are required to collect it on state parks and other public lands.

 Photo Gallery for Caloptilia invariabilis - Cherry Leaf-cone Caterpillar Moth

Photos: 12

Recorded by: David George, Stephen Dunn, Jeff Niznik, Rich Teper, Becky Watkins on 2023-07-30
Swain Co.
Recorded by: Jim Petranka and Becky Elkin on 2022-08-14
Madison Co.
Recorded by: Jim Petranka on 2022-03-06
Madison Co.
Recorded by: tom ward on 2021-10-08
Buncombe Co.
Recorded by: Jim Petranka and Bo Sullivan on 2021-08-02
Ashe Co.
Recorded by: Jim Petranka on 2021-05-28
Buncombe Co.
Recorded by: Jim Petranka and Becky Elkin on 2021-05-21
Madison Co.
Recorded by: Jim Petranka on 2021-04-12
Madison Co.
Recorded by: Jim Petranka on 2021-03-11
Madison Co.
Recorded by: Jim Petranka and Becky Elkin on 2019-07-25
Madison Co.
Recorded by: B. Bockhahn, P. Scharf on 2016-06-28
Yancey Co.
Recorded by: Kyle Kittelberger, Paul Scharf, Brian Bockhahn on 2015-06-17
Avery Co.