Moths of North Carolina
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8 NC Records

Zale lunifera (Hübner, 1818) - Barrens Zale

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Superfamily: Noctuoidea Family: ErebidaeSubfamily: ErebinaeTribe: OphiusiniP3 Number: 931048.00 MONA Number: 8713.00
Comments: One of 39 species in this genus that occur north of Mexico, 23 of which have been recorded in North Carolina. Zale lunifera was recently separated from Z. intenta, a close sibling species, by Schmidt (2010).
Field Guide Descriptions: Online Photographs: MPG, BugGuide, BOLDTechnical Description, Adults: Schmidt (2010)Technical Description, Immature Stages: Wagner et al. (2011)                                                                                 
Adult Markings: Zale lunifera and intenta are most clearly distinguished using DNA analysis (including DNA bar-coding). Other characters that Schmidt used to distinguish the two species are variable, including size, degree of elongation of the wing, prominence of the orbicular, intensity of striation on the forewing, and degree of sinuousity of the antemedian. Genitalic differences -- the last resort for identifying other Zales -- are only slight, especially in the males. Several of these characters, moreover, appear to be more clearly distinct in the Northeast; in North Carolina, specimens that have been bar-coded as intenta appear to be smaller than those bar-coded as lunifera (opposite of what Schmidt found), with the other characters also not consistently different. In the Northeast, intenta is widespread and believed to feed primarily on Cherry, whereas lunifera is confined to sandy pine barrens where it feeds on Scrub Oak (Q. ilicifolia). Those patterns have not, however, been clearly established in the Southeast, including North Carolina. Virtually all of our older records were assigned to lunifera and will take an effort to go back through existing specimens to re-determine their identities. In the meantime, we assume that the majority of records actually refer to intenta, presumably the more common, widespread species. We restrict records for lunifera primarily to specimens that have been confirmed by bar-coding.
Adult ID Requirements: Identifiable only by close inspection of structural features or by DNA analysis.
Distribution in North Carolina
Distribution: Uncertain
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)

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Flight Comments: Probably univoltine with adults flying two-three weeks later than intenta (Wagner et al., 2011); the July records may all represent lunifera
Habitats and Life History
Habitats: In the Northeast, Zale lunifera is believed to be highly confined to sandy barrens located close to the coast, where they are associated with populations of Scrub Oak; all other records are assumed to represent intenta. In North Carolina, however, several species that feed on Scrub Oak up north feed on other xeric oaks, including Turkey Oak (Quercus laevis) and Blackjack Oak (Q. marilandica). Those that feed on Blackjack in particular often occur outside the Coastal Plain, including well up into the Mountains (e.g., Hemileuca maia, Hyparpax aurora, and Morrisonia mucens). It seems unsafe to simply assume, therefore, that the same pattern observed for lunifera in the Northeast will be the same down here. Conversely, since Black Cherry can occur in even some of the driest habitats in the state, it is also not safe to assume that all records for this complex coming from xeric sandhills represent lunifera. We are currently waiting to see how well bar-coded specimens sort out by habitat.
Larval Host Plants: Stenophagous, reported to feed on Scrub Oak (Quercus ilicofila) in the Northeast and on Blackjack and other scrub oaks in the South (Wagner et al., 2011).
Observation Methods: Uncertain
See also Habitat Account for Xeric-Mesic, Sandy Woodlands and Scrub
Status in North Carolina
Natural Heritage Program Status:
Natural Heritage Program Ranks: G3G4 [SU]
State Protection: Has no legal protection, although permits are required to collect it on state parks and other public lands
Comments: Too little is currently known about the distribution, population sizes and trends, and habitat associations to estimate the conservation status of this species.