Catocala relicta

Catocala relicta
kah-TOCK-uh-lah mreh-LIK-tuh
Walker, [1858]

Catocala relicta, (form clara) posed scan on white/paper birch by Bill Oehlke,
Montague, Prince Edward Island, August 23, 2002.

This site has been created by Bill Oehlke.
Comments, suggestions and/or additional information are welcomed by Bill.


Superfamily: Noctuoidea
Family: Erebidae, Leach, [1815]
Subfamily: Erebinae, Leach, [1815]
Tribe: Catocalini, Boisduval, [1828]
Genus: Catocala, Schrank, 1802


The Forsaken, White or Relict Underwing, Catocala relicta (wingspan: 70-80mm), flies in all Canadian provinces (rare in Newfoundland) and also in the Northwest Territories.

In the United States it occurs in the border states (Washington [Robert Goodmiller, September 2002]; Montana [Charles Miller, Missoula Co., August]; and eastward) and has been taken as far south as Missouri, and in Kentucky and Mississippi as strays.

It flies in Colorado and Utah.

Tom Middagh reports them in Minnesota.

Arizona, California, Connecticut, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Tennessee, Vermont, Virginia, West Virginia, Wisconsin and Wyoming.

Scott Shaw reports relicta is common "on Pole Mountain, in the Medicine Bow Forest, Wyoming, about 10 miles east of Laramie near I-80 in the mountain willow bogs."

The moth formerly described as C. elda Behrens 1887, is now a synonym of C. relicta.

Visit Catocala relicta, Hat Rock State Park, Umatilla, Umatilla County, Oregon, August 1, 2009, courtesy of Mike Denny.

Visit Catocala relicta approaching bait trap, plus recto and verso images and comparison plate, Regina, Saskatchewan, August 17, 2009, courtesy of Tim Taylor.

Visit Catocala relicta form phrynia, Ogemaw County, Michigan, August 26, 2012, Cindy Mead.

Visit Catocala relicta, Hinckley, Somerset County, Maine, August 30, 2011, Steve Lemieux.

Visit Catocala relicta form phrynia, Peterborough, Ontario, September 7, 2004, Tim Dyson.

Visit Catocala relicta, Athol, Worcester County, Massachusetts, September 29, 2011, Dave Small.

Visit Catocala relicta, forms: typical and clara, Medford, Taylor County, September, October 1-2, 2011, Joan F. Rickert.

Visit Catocala relicta male verso, unusual leg spines, Regina, Saskatchewan, November, 2009, courtesy of Tim Taylor.

Catocala relicta, form "clara" Peterborough, Ontario,
August 16, 2004, courtesy of Tim Dyson copyright.

Catocala relicta, Peterborough, Ontario,
August 27, 2004, courtesy of Tim Dyson copyright.

Studies indicate that adult moths definitely chose light coloured surfaces on which to hide.

There is considerable variation with regard to black/white concentrations on the forewings.

The form clara Beutenmüller, 1903, has the basal and subterminal areas predominantly white; the form phrynia Henry Edwards, 1880, is evenly dusted with grey over the entire forewing.

Typical specimens (right) have the basal and subterminal areas filled with blackish scales.

Catocala relicta, Peterborough, Ontario, August 28, 2004, Tim Dyson copyright.

Catocala relicta form "phrynia", Peterborough, Ontario,
August 21, 2004, courtesy of Tim Dyson copyright.

Visit Catocala relicta form "phrynia", Wolf Creek, Josephine County, Oregon, August 22, 2009, courtesy of Edna Bottorff.

I was out tending some of my Saturniidae larvae in big white remay sleeves in a stand of poplars and birches around 4:30 pm today, September 2. There was a nice female relicta form clara resting on the side of one of the sleeves.

Examination of the ventral tip of the abdomen is not a good way to sex these moths as the appearance was of claspers, i.e., there was a "split" in the abdominal hairs at least 3 mm long from the tip of the abdomen toward the head.

The frenulum should be inspected. Males have a single, thick spine, while females have multiple softer spines.

Male Catocala relicta by Bill Oehlke.


Catocala relicta are on the wing from late June to October.

The Catocala relicta caterpillar feeds on poplars, quaking aspen and willows. It has also been reported on oak, hickory and birch.


Adults eclose from pupae at soil surface.

Those that I have reared from eggs have spun very loose cocoons among leaves. Form "clara" seems most common on Prince Edward Island in the Montague area. Eggs from "clara" females have yielded "clara", typical and "phrynia" forms.


Catocala relicta females emit an airbourne pheromone and males use their antennae to track the scent plume.

This moth is reported to mate readily in captivity.

The abdomen of the female reminds me of a turkey baster while males have a much more even taper.


Eggs are deposited on tree bark in the fall and larvae emerge the following spring.

I captured several females at lights and they readily oviposited in inflated brown paper grocery bags. Eggs, very small, were deposited along sides, but most often near top where bag had been folded shut. I had also inserted a crumpled up brown paper sandwich bag and found eggs in creases/folds on outside of the bag as well as inside the bag.

It seems moths seek out sheltered spots in which to oviposit, either to protect themselves or eggs.

I am extremely grateful to Kirby Wolfe for his photographs of Catocala eggs.

Catocala concumbens courtesy of Kirby Wolfe

Catocala relicta courtesy of Kirby Wolfe.

The eggs look like miniature pin cushions, well rounded, but slightly flattened with intricate sculpting.

The pale greenish-grey larvae attain lengths of 60 mm. The head is brown and coarsely granulose.

Success! The Catocala relicta and Catocala concumbens eggs that I overwintered in the refrigerator crisper provided me with many tiny caterpillars this spring. They are very tiny, yet very quick, moving in a jerky "inch-worm" fashion, reminding me very much of the movement of disturbed mosquito wigglers.

Larvae progressed very rapidly in outdoor remay sleeves on poplar and attained a length of about 60mm (2-1/4 inches) by July 18. They are masters of camouflage, hugging the poplar limbs.

I got a surprise when I took them indoors to finish them in large plastic tubs. This species makes a cocoon, utilizing silk, leaves and whatever debris is nearby. In the wild, larvae probably descend the tree to spin amongst leaf litter; in the tubs, cocoons were spun up amongst leaves still affixed to twigs.

Cocoons were not much smaller than luna cocoons even though larvae were not near the bulk of mature luna caterpillars. Pupation followed within a couple of days and there is an interesting "bloom" on the outside of the pupae.

The first cocoons were spun on July 19 and the first eclosion was on August 8. This, I believe, is too early for the natural flight here on P.E.I. Next year I will not takes eggs out of cold storage until at least three weeks after poplar leaf out.

Below are two images of larvae on Big toothed Aspen, New Hampshire, courtesy of Ron Nelson.

Catocala relicta courtesy of Tim Dyson.

Catocala relicta pupa in cocoon, courtesy of Tim Dyson.

Larval Food Plants

Listed below are primary food plant(s) and alternate food plants. It is hoped that this alphabetical listing followed by the common name of the foodplant will prove useful. The list is not exhaustive, although some species seem very host specific. Experimenting with closely related foodplants is worthwhile.

Betula papyrifera
Carya ovata
Populus alba
Populus balsamifera
Populus deltoides
Populus nigra
Populus tremuloides......
Salix eriocephala

White/paper birch
Shagbark hickory
White poplar
Balsam Poplar
Eastern Cottonwood
Lombardy Poplar
Quaking Aspen
Diamond Willow

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Please send sightings/images to Bill. I will do my best to respond to requests for identification help.

Enjoy one of nature's wonderments: Live Saturniidae (Giant Silkmoth) cocoons.

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