NDSU image


North Dakota State University

NDSU button
NDSU Search button
NDSU Phonebook button


A Key to the superfamilies of the Lepidoptera
with special reference to North and South Dakota

The following should serve as a key to the superfamilies and guide to the families of Lepidoptera occurring in North America. This key is not perfect. However, in those areas where identification is most difficult– families of the Gelechioidea, accurate assignment of a given moth to the correct family requires dissection, clearing and mounting of abdominal structures or a specialist; see Hodges (in Kristiensen 1999).

In the key below, numbers of species within families occurring on a world wide basis are estimates from Kristensen (1999). Numbers for North America are from Hodges et al. 1983 and recent revisions. The number of species occurring from the Dakotas is only definitively known for a few groups. However, based upon available data, one fifth of the species found in North America provides a good estimate.  In using this fraction, smaller families are overestimated and larger families are underestimated.  Rare families, or those not commonly encountered by non-lepidopterists are followed by an asterisk (*).


1. Antennae capitate or clavate, hindwings with humeral lobe, without a frenulum (butterflies).     Go to 2 

Examples of capitate antennae: Speyeria cybele (left) and a clavate antenna with terminal apiculus: Epargyreus clarus, (right).


 Ventral surface of Speyeria cybele, arrow indicating humeral lobe.


1.’ Antennae otherwise, i.e. filiform, serrate,  pectinate or clavate; hws usually with a frenulum, frenulum always present when antennae are clavate (moths).  Go to 3 


Clavate antennae of Hemaris diffinis


Ciliate antennae of Virba fragilis 


bifasciculate antennae of Feltia herilis


Pectinate antennae of Paradiarsia litoralis


Ventral wing base of Agrotis volubilis (left) arrow indicates the single frenular bristle held by a bar-like retinaculum;
Spaelotis clandistina
(right) arrow indicates multiple frenular bristles held in place by a scale-tuft retinaculum. 
Characteristic of most species of moths,  male and female, respectively.




Return to previous page



Last updated: 06/20/07

Dr. Gerald M. Fauske
collection manager, NDSIRC
research specialist, NDSU
216 Hultz Hall
Fargo, ND 58105
E-Mail: Gerald.Fauske@ndsu.nodak.edu

Published by the Department of Entomology 

Prospective students may schedule a visit by calling 1-800-488-NDSU.