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Phymatopus hecta3.jpg
Gold swift male "calling"
Scientific classification Red Pencil Icon.png
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Arthropoda
Class: Insecta
Order: Lepidoptera
Superfamily: Hepialoidea
Family: Hepialidae
Stephens, 1829
Diversity [1]
62 genera and at least 606 species

The Hepialidae are a family of insects in the lepidopteran order. Moths of this family are often referred to as swift moths or ghost moths.


Taxonomy and systematics

The Hepialidae constitute by far the most diverse group of the infraorder Exoporia. The 60 genera contain at least 587 currently recognised species of these primitive moths worldwide. The genera Fraus (endemic to Australia), Gazoryctra (Holarctic), Afrotheora (Southern African), and Antihepialus (African) are considered to be the most primitive, containing four genera and about 51 species with a mostly relictual southern Gondwanan distribution and are currently separated from the Hepialidae sensu stricto which might form a natural, derived group. [2] The most diverse genera are Oxycanus with 73 species, Endoclita with 60 species, Thitarodes with 51 species and Cibyra with 50 species following a comprehensive catalogue of Exoporia. [2] The relationships of the many genera are not yet well established; see below for an ordered synonymic generic checklist, [2] and the Taxobox for navigation.

Morphology and identification

The family Hepialidae is considered to be very primitive, with a number of structural differences to other moths including very short antennae and the lack of a functional proboscis or frenulum (see Kristensen, 1999: 61–62 for details). [3] Like other Exoporia the sperm is transferred to the egg by an external channel between the ostium and the ovipore. Other nonditrysian moths have a common cloaca. [2] The moths are homoneurous with similar forewings and hindwings, and are sometimes included as 'honorary' members of the Macrolepidoptera, though archaic they are. Strictly speaking, they are phylogenetically too basal and constitute Microlepidoptera, although hepialids range from very small moths to a wingspan record of 250 mm in Zelotypia . [2] Because of their sometimes large size and striking colour patterns, they have received more popular and taxonomic attention than most "micros". Many species display strong sexual dimorphism, with males smaller but more boldly marked than females, or at high elevation, females of Pharmacis and Aoraia show "brachypterous" wing reduction. [4]


Abantiades latipennis, Tasmania, Australia Abantiades latipennis.jpg
Abantiades latipennis , Tasmania, Australia

Hepialidae are distributed on ancient landmasses worldwide except Antarctica but with the surprising exceptions of Madagascar, the Caribbean islands and in Africa, tropical West Africa. It remains to be borne out if these absences are real as Aenetus cohici was not long ago discovered in New Caledonia. [5] In the Oriental and Neotropical regions hepialids have diversified in rainforest environments, but this not apparently the case in the Afrotropics. [2] Hepialids mostly have low dispersive powers and do not occur on oceanic islands with the exception of Phassodes on Fiji and Western Samoa and a few species in Japan and Kurile Islands. Whilst the type locality of Eudalaca sanctahelena is from the remote island of St Helena, this is thought to be an error for South Africa. [2]


Swift moths are usually crepuscular and some species form leks, also thought to have arisen independently in the genus Ogygioses (Palaeosetidae). [3] In most genera, males fly swiftly to virgin females that are calling with scent. In other genera, virgin females "assemble" upwind to displaying males, [6] which emit a musky pheromone from scales on the metathoracic tibiae. In such cases of sex role reversal, there may be visual cues also: males of the European ghost swift are possibly the most frequently noticed species, being white, ghostly and conspicuous when forming a lek at dusk. [7] Sometimes they hover singly as if suspended from a thread or flying in a figure of eight motion. [2] The chemical structures of some pheromones have been analysed. [8]


The female does not lay its eggs in a specific location but scatters ("broadcasts") them while in flight, sometimes in huge numbers (29,000 were recorded from a single female Trictena , [9] which is presumably a world record for the Lepidoptera). The maggot-like larvae [10] feed in a variety of ways. Probably all Exoporia have concealed larvae, making silken tunnels in all manner of substrates. Some species feed on leaf litter, fungi, [11] mosses, decaying vegetation, ferns, gymnosperms and a wide span of monocot and dicot plants. [2] [12] There is very little evidence of hostplant specialisation; whilst the South African species Leto venus is restricted to the tree Virgilia capensis this may be a case of "ecological monophagy". [2] A few feed on foliage (the austral 'oxyacanine' genera which may drag foliage into their feeding tunnel: Nielsen et al., 2000: 825). Most feed underground on fine roots, at least in early instars and some then feed internally in tunnels in the stem or trunk of their hostplants. Root-feeding larvae travelling through soil make silk-lined tunnels. Before pupating they make a vertical tunnel, which can be up to 10 cm deep, with an exit close to the ground surface. [13] The pupae can then climb up and down to adjust to changes in temperature and flooding. [14] Before the adult moth emerges, the pupa protrudes half way out at the ground surface. The pupa has rows of dorsal spines on the abdominal segments as in other lower members of the Heteroneura. [3]

Economic significance

Chinese medicine makes considerable use of the "mummies" collected of the caterpillar-attacking fungi Ophiocordyceps sinensis , and these can form an expensive ingredient. [2] [15] [16] The witchetty grub (which are sometimes hepialid larvae) is a popular food source especially among aboriginal Australians. In Central America and South America, hepialid larvae are also eaten. [17] However, some species of Wiseana , Oncopera , Oxycanus , Fraus and Dalaca are considered pests of pastures in Australia, New Zealand, and South America. [2]


The Hepialidae were identified as having primitive wing venation by John Henry Comstock (1893). In his study of Evolution of the Wings of Insects he shows that the fore and hind wings of Sthenopis (Hepialus) argenteomaculatus maintain a five branched radius while in the remainder of the Lepidoptera the hind wing radius is merged into one vein. This identifies the Hepialidae as a primitive relict of primitive wing venation.


Fauna of Europe

Source [18] and identification [19] [20]

Generic checklist

Cited literature

  1. "Animal biodiversity: An outline of higher-level classification and survey of taxonomic richness – Lepidoptera" (PDF). mapress.com. Retrieved 5 April 2018.
  2. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 Nielsen, E.S., Robinson, G.S. and Wagner, D.L. 2000. Ghost-moths of the world: a global inventory and bibliography of the Exoporia (Mnesarchaeoidea and Hepialoidea) (Lepidoptera) Journal of Natural History, 34(6): 823–878.Abstract
  3. 1 2 3 Kristensen, N.P., (1999). The non-Glossatan Moths. Ch. 4, pp. 41–62 in Kristensen, N.P. (Ed.). Lepidoptera, Moths and Butterflies. Volume 1: Evolution, Systematics, and Biogeography. Handbook of Zoology. A Natural History of the phyla of the Animal Kingdom. Band / Volume IV Arthropoda: Insecta Teilband / Part 35: 491 pp. Walter de Gruyter, Berlin, New York.
  4. Sattler, K. (1991). A review of wing reduction in Lepidoptera. Bulletin of the British Museum of Natural History (Entomology), 60: 243–288.
  5. "Buffalo Museum of Science – Home". www.sciencebuff.org. Archived from the original on 27 September 2007. Retrieved 5 April 2018.
  6. Mallet, J. 1984. Sex roles in the ghost moth Hepialus humuli (L.) with a review of mating in the Hepialidae (Lepidoptera). Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society, 79: 67–82.
  7. Andersson, S., Rydell, J., Svensson, M.G.E. (1998). Light, predation and the lekking behaviour of the ghost swift Hepialus humuli (L.) (Lepidoptera, Hepialidae). Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 265: 1345–1351
  8. Schulz S., Francke W., König W.A., Schurig, V., Mori K., Kittmann R. and Schneider D. (1990). Male pheromone of swift moth, Hepialus hecta L. (Lepidoptera : Hepialidae). Journal of Chemical Ecology, 16(12): 3511–3521.
  9. Tindale, N.B. (1932). Revision of the Australian ghost moths (Lepidoptera Homoneura, family Hepialidae). part 1, Records of the South Australian Museum, 4: 497–536.
  10. "Ghost Moth Larva | UKmoths".
  11. "Puriri moth: NZAC Pare". www.landcareresearch.co.nz. Archived from the original on 2004-04-23.
  12. Grehan, J.R. 1989. Larval feeding habits of the Hepialidae (Lepidoptera) Journal of Natural History, 23(4): 803–824.
  13. H. Buser, W.Huber and R. Joos 2000 Hepialidae – Wurzelbohrer. Pp. 61-96 in Schmetterlinge und ihre Lebensräume. Band 3. Pro Natura, Basel.
  14. SR Atijegbe, S Mansfield, M Rostás, CM Ferguson and S Worner 2020 The remarkable locomotory ability of Wiseana (Lepidoptera: Hepialidae) pupae: an adaptation to predation and environmental conditions? The Wētā 54:19-31
  15. Wu, Y. and Yuan, D. (1997). Biodiversity and conservation in China: a view from entomologists. Entomologica Sinica, 4: 95–111.
  16. (PDF). 8 August 2007 https://web.archive.org/web/20070808180717/http://www.ethnopharmacology.org/newsLetter/nl_2004/ISEnl4EE.pdf. Archived from the original (PDF) on 8 August 2007. Retrieved 5 April 2018.{{cite web}}: Missing or empty |title= (help)
  17. Ramos-Elorduy, J. (2002). Edible insects of Chiapas, Mexico. Ecology of Food and Nutrition, 41(4): 271–299.
  18. "Fauna Europaea".
  19. Chinery, M. (1986). Collins Guide to the Insects of Britain and Western Europe. (Reprinted 1991)
  20. Skinner, B. (1984). Colour Identification Guide to Moths of the British Isles

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Ghost moth Species of moth

The ghost moth or ghost swift is a moth of the family Hepialidae. It is common throughout Europe, except for in the far south-east.

<i>Phassodes</i> Genus of moths

Phassodes is a moth genus of the family Hepialidae. As of 2018, it is monospecific, consisting of the sole species Phassodes vitiensis; this species is very variable. It is found in Fiji and Samoa. The life cycle is unknown but the larva is presumed to feed underground on the roots of plants or decaying matter.

<i>Phymatopus</i> Genus of moths

Phymatopus is a genus of moths of the family Hepialidae, which consists of around 500 species and 30 genera. The genus was erected by Hans Daniel Johan Wallengren in 1869. They can be found across Eurasia and North America. Species can be distinguished by the different morphology of male genitalia and different forewing patterns, which vary in stripe colour and size and arrangement of spots. The stripes themselves consist of spots separated by dark veins which are fringed by thin black lines from both inner and outer sides.

Cibyra brasiliensis is a species of moth of the family Hepialidae. It is known from Brazil, from which its species epithet is derived.

Cibyra catharinae is a species of moth of the family Hepialidae. It is known from Brazil.

Cibyra danieli is a species of moth of the family Hepialidae. It is known from Brazil.

Cibyra epigramma is a species of moth of the family Hepialidae. It is known from Brazil.

Cibyra exclamans is a species of moth of the family Hepialidae. It is known from Brazil.

Cibyra ferruginosa is a species of moth of the family Hepialidae. It was described by Francis Walker in 1856 and is known to live in the northeastern region of Brazil.

Cibyra gugelmanni is a species of moth of the family Hepialidae. It is known from Mexico.

Cibyra lagopus is a species of moth of the family Hepialidae. It is known from Surinam.

Cibyra monoargenteus is a species of moth of the family Hepialidae. It is known from Brazil.

Cibyra munona is a species of moth of the family Hepialidae. It is known from Brazil.

Cibyra pluriargenteus is a species of moth of the family Hepialidae. It is known from Brazil.

Cibyra trilinearis is a species of moth of the family Hepialidae. It is known from Colombia.

Cibyra zischkai is a species of moth of the family Hepialidae. It is known from Bolivia.

Gazoryctra wielgusi is a moth of the family Hepialidae. It is known from Arizona and New Mexico.

<i>Sthenopis pretiosus</i> Species of moth

Sthenopis pretiosus, the gold-spotted ghost moth, is a species of moth of the family Hepialidae. It was first described by Gottlieb August Wilhelm Herrich-Schäffer in 1856. It can be found in found Brazil, Venezuela and in the north-eastern United States and south-eastern Canada.

Parahepialus is a monotypic moth genus in the family Hepialidae described by Zhi-Wen Zou, Xin Liu and Gu-Ren Zhang in 2010. Its only species, Parahepialus nebulosus, was described by Sergei Alphéraky in 1889 and is known from the Tibet Autonomous Region in China.

Triodia nubifer is a species of moth belonging to the family Hepialidae. It was described by Julius Lederer in 1853 and is known from Central Russia and Kazakhstan.