Moths of North Carolina
Scientific Name:
Common Name:
Family (Alpha):
« »
View PDFNoctuidae Members:
Papaipema Members:
10 NC Records

Papaipema appassionata (Harvey, 1876) - Pitcher-plant Borer

view caption
Superfamily: Noctuoidea Family: NoctuidaeSubfamily: NoctuinaeTribe: ApameiniP3 Number: 932467.00 MONA Number: 9493.00
Comments: One of 44 species in this genus that occur in North America north of Mexico (Lafontaine and Schmidt, 2010, 2015), 30 of which have been recorded in North Carolina
Field Guide Descriptions: Covell (1984)Online Photographs: MPG, BugGuide, iNaturalist, Google, BAMONA, GBIF, BOLDTechnical Description, Adults: Forbes (1954)Technical Description, Immature Stages: Forbes (1954); Wagner et al. (2011)                                                                                 
Adult Markings: A medium-sized, brightly colored, and conspicuously spotted Papaipema. The basal and medial areas are largely yellow to ochre, with dark reddish-brown filling the subterminal and terminal areas, as well as the space between the orbicular and reniform spots and between the antemedian and basal lines; the lines themselves are this same shade of reddish-brown. The orbicular, claviform, and reniform are all very large, filled with white, with both the claviform and reniform subdivided into separate spots. The reniform, in particular, is distinctively large in this species, coming into contact at its top and bottom edges with the postmedian line (Forbes, 1954). The hindwings are tan to light buff.
Wingspan: 30 mm (Forbes, 1954)
Adult Structural Features: The valve of the male is illustrated but not described by Forbes (1954). Based on the illustration, however, the shape of the cucullus appears to be distinctive, being shorter and lacking the ventral prong found in many of the other species.
Adult ID Requirements: Identifiable from good quality photos of unworn specimens.
Immatures and Development: The larvae and their feeding behavior were described and illustrated by F.M. Jones (1908). They are borers in the rhizomes of Pitcher Plants, including both Sarracenia flava and purpurea in our area. Extensive mounds of orange frass are ejected, forming a mound above the exit hole, possibly helping keep the bore hole from flooding (Jones, 1908). Pupation occurs in the soil or sphagnum next to the rhizomes (Wagner et al., 2011). As is true for other Papaipema, eggs are laid in the fall and the young larvae probably remain above-ground until the following spring.
Larvae ID Requirements: Identifiable from good quality photos, especially where associated with known host plants.
Distribution in North Carolina
Distribution: We have records, so far, only from the Coastal Plain. However, both this moth as well as one of its primary host plants -- Sarracenia purpurea -- occur as far north as southern Canada and we expect to find it in our mountains, where populations of S. purpurea exist
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
Immature 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: Univoltine with our records for adults all coming from October.
Habitats and Life History
Habitats: Our records come from Longleaf Pine Savannas in the Outer Coastal Plain and Sandhill Seeps in the Fall-line Sandhills.
Larval Host Plants: Stenophagous, feeding solely on the rhizomes of Pitcher-plants (Sarracenia spp.); both Sarracenia flava and S. purpurea are known to be hosts for this species. - View
Observation Methods: Adults come to blacklights but populations can be more easily detected looking for wilting Pitcher Plants and searching for the distinctive mounds of frass at the base of the stems.
See also Habitat Account for General Herbaceous Peatlands
Status in North Carolina
Natural Heritage Program Status: SR
Natural Heritage Program Ranks: G4 S2S3
State Protection: Listed as Significantly Rare by the Natural Heritage Program. That designation, however, does not confer any legal protection, although permits are required to collect it on state parks and other public lands.
Comments: This species is an extreme specialist on plants that are themselves highly specialized on open, sunny habitats with acidic, saturated soils. The savannas, sandhill seeps and open peatlands that once prevailed across the Coastal Plain have largely been converted and those that remain are highly vulnerable to the effects of fire suppression. While its subterranean larvae are probably less vulnerable to the effects of fire itself than are the completely above-ground larvae of Exyra species, P. appassionata appears to be far rarer. That may be possibly due to colony crashes caused by its own over-destruction of its host plants. That, in turn, may suggest that this species was naturally a fugitive, requiring frequent dispersal to find recovered populations of its host plant. As such, it would be highly vulnerable to the effects of habitat fragmentation. Alternatively, these population crashes suggest some sort of failure occurring within the predators, parasitoids, and diseases that normally keep insect populations under control. That, again, could be an effect of the extreme habitat fragmentation that Longleaf Pine Habitats and Peatlands have undergone over the past 200 years. More surveys need to be conducted using larval searches to better determine the current distribution and abundance of this species in North Carolina. The factors involved in population regulation in this species also need to be better understood.

 Photo Gallery for Papaipema appassionata - Pitcher-plant Borer

Photos: 2

Recorded by: Tony McBride, Steve Hall, Bo Sullivan on 2014-06-23
Pender Co.
Comment: Larva found by looking for dead Sarracenia flava stalks with orange frass at the base; dug out and kept for rearing by Tony McBride
Recorded by: Steve Hall on 2002-10-12
Hoke Co.