Geometer moth

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Geometer moth
Temporal range: Priabonian to Recent 35–0  Ma
Chiasma species W IMG 2775.jpg
Chiasmia species from Ennominae
Scientific classification Red Pencil Icon.png
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Arthropoda
Class: Insecta
Order: Lepidoptera
Superfamily: Geometroidea
Family: Geometridae
Leach, 1815

The geometer moths are moths belonging to the family Geometridae of the insect order Lepidoptera, the moths and butterflies. Their scientific name derives from the Ancient Greek geoγῆ or γαῖα "the earth", and metronμέτρον "measure" in reference to the way their larvae, or "inchworms", appear to "measure the earth" as they move along in a looping fashion. [1] A very large family, it has around 23,000 species of moths described, [2] [3] and over 1400 species from six subfamilies indigenous to North America alone. [1] A well-known member is the peppered moth, Biston betularia, which has been subject of numerous studies in population genetics. Several other geometer moths are notorious pests.



Many geometrids have slender abdomens and broad wings which are usually held flat with the hindwings visible. As such, they appear rather butterfly-like, but in most respects they are typical moths; the majority fly at night, they possess a frenulum to link the wings, and the antennae of the males are often feathered. They tend to blend into the background, often with intricate, wavy patterns on their wings. In some species, females have reduced wings (e.g. winter moth and fall cankerworm). [1] Most are of moderate size, about 3 cm (1.2 in) in wingspan, but a range of sizes occur from 10–50 mm (0.39–1.97 in), and a few (e.g., Dysphania species) reach an even larger size. They have distinctive paired tympanal organs at the base of the abdomen (lacking in flightless females).[ citation needed ]


The name "Geometridae" ultimately derives from Latin geometra from Greek γεωμέτρης ("geometer", "earth-measurer"). This refers to the means of locomotion of the larvae or caterpillars, which lack the full complement of prolegs seen in other lepidopteran caterpillars, with only two or three pairs at the posterior end instead of the usual five pairs. Equipped with appendages at both ends of the body, a caterpillar clasps with its front legs and draws up the hind end, then clasps with the hind end (prolegs) and reaches out for a new front attachment - creating the impression that it measures its journey. The caterpillars are accordingly called "loopers", "spanworms", or "inchworms" after their characteristic looping gait. The cabbage looper and soybean looper are not inchworms, but caterpillars of a different family. In many species of geometer moths, the inchworms are about 25 mm (1.0 in) long. They tend to be green, grey, or brownish and hide from predators by fading into the background or resembling twigs. Many inchworms, when disturbed, stand erect and motionless on their prolegs, increasing the resemblance. Some have humps or filaments, or cover themselves in plant material. They are gregarious and are generally smooth. Some eat lichen, flowers, or pollen, while some, such as the Hawaiian species of the genus Eupithecia , are carnivorous. Certain destructive inchworms are called cankerworms.[ citation needed ]

In 2019, the first geometrid caterpillar in Baltic amber was discovered by German scientists. Described under Eogeometer vadens , it measured about 5 mm (0.20 in), and was estimated to be 44 million years old, dating back to Eocene epoch. It was described as the earliest evidence for the subfamily of Ennominae , particularly the tribe of Boarmiini . [4]


The placement of the example species follows a 1990 systematic treatment; it may be outdated. Subfamilies are tentatively sorted in a phylogenetic sequence, from the most basal to the most advanced. Traditionally, the Archiearinae were held to be the most ancient of the geometer moth lineages, as their caterpillars have well-developed prolegs. However, it now seems that the Larentiinae are actually older, as indicated by their numerous plesiomorphies and DNA sequence data. They are either an extremely basal lineage of the Geometridae together with the Sterrhinae , or might even be considered a separate family of Geometroidea. As regards the Archiearinae, some species that were traditionally placed therein actually seem to belong to other subfamilies; altogether it seems that in a few cases, the prolegs which were originally lost in the ancestral geometer moths re-evolved as an atavism. [5] [6]

Larentiinae – about 5,800 species, includes the pug moths, mostly temperate, might be a distinct family [5] [6]

Sterrhinae – about 2,800 species, mostly tropical, might belong to same family as the Larentiinae [5]

Desmobathrinae – pantropical

Geometrinae – emerald moths, about 2,300 named species, most tropical

Archiearinae – 12[ verification needed ] species; holarctic, southern Andes and Tasmania, though the latter some seem to belong to the Ennominae, [6] larvae have all the prolegs except most are reduced.

Oenochrominae – in some treatments used as a "wastebin taxon" for genera that are difficult to place in other groups

Alsophilinae – a few genera, defoliators of trees, might belong in the Ennominae, tribe Boarmiini [6]

Ennominae – about 9,700 species, including some defoliating pests, global distribution

Geometridae genera incertae sedis include:

Hydriomena? protrita holotype forewing Hydriomena%3F protrita.jpg
Hydriomena? protrita holotype forewing

Fossil Geometridae taxa include:

Related Research Articles

Macariini tribe of insects

The Macariini are a tribe of geometer moths in the subfamily Ennominae. Though they share many traits with the Sterrhinae, this is probably plesiomorphic rather than indicative of a close relationship, and DNA sequence data points to the Boarmiini as particularly close relatives of the Macariini. All things considered, this tribe might still resemble the very first Ennominae more than any other living lineage in the subfamily.

Ennominae Subfamily of the geometer moths

Ennominae is the largest subfamily of the geometer moth family (Geometridae) with some 9,700 described species in 1,100 genera. They are usually a fairly small moths, though some grow to be considerably large. This subfamily has a global distribution. It includes some species that are notorious defoliating pests. The subfamily was first described by Philogène Auguste Joseph Duponchel in 1845.

Bistonini Tribe of geometer moths

The Bistonini are a tribe of geometer moths in subfamily Ennominae. As numerous ennomine genera have not yet been assigned to a tribe, the genus list is preliminary. In addition, the entire tribe is sometimes merged into a much-expanded Boarmiini. In other treatments, the Erannini are included in the present group.

Larentiinae subfamily of insects

Larentiinae is a subfamily of moths containing roughly 5,800 species that occur mostly in the temperate regions of the world. They are generally considered a subfamily of the geometer moth family (Geometridae) and are divided into a few large or good-sized tribes, and numerous very small or even monotypic ones which might not always be valid. Well-known members are the "pug moths" of the Eupitheciini and the "carpets", mainly of the Cidariini and Xanthorhoini. The subfamily was described by Philogène Auguste Joseph Duponchel in 1845.

Boarmiini tribe of insects

The Boarmiini are a large tribe of geometer moths in the Ennominae subfamily.

Nacophorini tribe of insects

The Nacophorini are one of the smaller tribes of geometer moths in the subfamily Ennominae. They are the most diverse Ennominae of Australia and are widespread in the Americas. If the African genera tentatively placed herein indeed belong here, the distribution of the Nacophorini is distinctly Gondwanan, with their probable origin either of Australia, South America or even Antarctica. In Eurasia, they are rare by comparison.

<i>Alsophila</i> (moth) Genus of geometer moths

Alsophila is a genus of the moth family Geometridae, subfamily Alsophilinae. The genus was erected by Jacob Hübner in 1825. The genus is notable because of distinct sexual dimorphism leading to strongly reduced wings in females, so much so that they cannot fly. The moths fly in late autumn or early spring.

<i>Mesothea</i> genus of insects

Mesothea is a monotypic moth genus in the family Geometridae described by Warren in 1901. Its only species, Mesothea incertata, the day emerald or plain emerald, was first described by Walker in 1863. It is found in North America.

<i>Scopula rubiginata</i> Species of geometer moth in subfamily Sterrhinae

Scopula rubiginata, the tawny wave, is a moth of the family Geometridae. The species was first described by Johann Siegfried Hufnagel in 1767.

Sterrhinae subfamily of insects

Sterrhinae is a large subfamily of geometer moths with some 2,800 described species. This subfamily was described by Edward Meyrick in 1892.

Scopulini tribe of insects

Scopulini is a tribe of the geometer moth family (Geometridae), with about 900 species in seven genera. The tribe was described by Philogène Auguste Joseph Duponchel in 1845.

<i>Alsophila pometaria</i> species of insect

Alsophila pometaria, the fall cankerworm, is a moth of the family Geometridae. The species was first described by Thaddeus William Harris in 1841. It is found in North America from Nova Scotia west to Alberta, south to Colorado and California.

<i>Nemoria festaria</i> species of insect

Nemoria festaria is a species of emerald moth in the family Geometridae. It is found in North America.

<i>Synchlora frondaria</i> species of insect

Synchlora frondaria, the southern emerald, is a species of emerald moth in the family Geometridae. It is found in the Caribbean, Central America, North America, and South America.

Idaea hilliata, or Hill's wave moth, is a species of geometrid moth in the family Geometridae. It is found in North America.

Idaea eremiata, the straw wave moth, is a species of geometrid moth in the family Geometridae. It is found in North America.

<i>Idaea demissaria</i> species of insect

Idaea demissaria, the red-bordered wave moth, is a species of geometrid moth in the family Geometridae. It is found in North America.

<i>Idaea scintillularia</i> species of insect

Idaea scintillularia, the diminutive wave, is a species of geometrid moth in the family Geometridae. It is found in North America.

Idaea ostentaria, the showy wave, is a species of geometrid moth in the family Geometridae.

Eogeometer is a prehistoric genus of Ennomine geometer moths in the tribe Boarmiini. The type and only species is Eogeometer vadens, the specimen of which measured about 5 mm (0.20 in), and was estimated to be 44 million years old, dating back to Eocene epoch. Both the genus and species were described by Thilo C. Fischer, Artur Michalski and Axel Hausmann in 2019 as the first geometrid caterpillar in Baltic amber.


  1. 1 2 3 Robin McLeod, John; Balaban, Jane; Moisset, Beatriz; Entz, Chuck (April 27, 2009). "Family Geometridae - Geometrid Moths". BugGuide. Retrieved April 2, 2011.
  2. "Lepidoptera Barcode of Life" . Retrieved 2017-07-11.
  3. Scoble, M. J. (1999), Geometrid Moths of the World: A Catalogue (Lepidoptera, Geometridae) (in German), 1 and 2, Stenstrup: CSIRO Publishing and Apollo Books, p. 1016
  4. 1 2 3 Fischer, Thilo C.; Michalski, Artur; Hausmann, Axel (2019). "Geometrid caterpillar in Eocene Baltic amber (Lepidoptera, Geometridae)". Scientific Reports . 9: Article number 17201. doi: 10.1038/s41598-019-53734-w . PMID   31748672.
  5. 1 2 3 Õunap, Erki; Viidalepp, Jaan; Saarma, Urmas (2008). "Systematic position of Lythriini revised: transferred from Larentiinae to Sterrhinae (Lepidoptera, Geometridae)". Zoologica Scripta . 37 (4): 405–413. doi:10.1111/j.1463-6409.2008.00327.x.
  6. 1 2 3 4 Young, Catherine J. (2008). "Characterisation of the Australian Nacophorini using adult morphology, and phylogeny of the Geometridae based on morphological characters" (PDF). Zootaxa . 1736: 1–141.
  7. Cockerell, T. D. A. (1922). "A fossil Moth from Florissant, Colorado". American Museum Novitates. 34: 1–2.

Further reading