ID Guide 6: Notes on Texas Petrophila Identification

In my previous post, I described an “Ah-hah!” moment I had recently with some of the Texas species of Petrophila (Lepidoptera: Crambidae). Before I settle in to write a longer dissertation on the identification of all the species in this genus in the U.S., I thought it might be beneficial at least to jot down some of my latest notes for the more local scene.

So once again, here is the array of purported species of Petrophila previously ascribed to Texas. I list the Hodges numbers and I’m giving some of them new common names for ease of communication:

Petrophila daemonalis (#4771), Devil’s River Petrophila
Petrophila cappsi (#4772), Capps’ Petrophila
Petrophila kearfottalis (#4773), Kearfott’s Petrophila*
Petrophila bifascialis (#4774), Two-banded Petrophila
Petrophila jaliscalis (#4775), Jalisco Petrophila
Petrophila fulicalis (#4777), Feather-edged Petrophila
Petrophila confusalis (#4780), Confusing Petrophila*
Petrophila avernalis (#4781), Spring Petrophila
Petrophila cronialis (#4782), Crony Petrophila*
Petrophila longipennis (#4783), Long-winged Petrophila*
Petrophila schaefferalis (#4784), Schaeffer’s Petrophila
Petrophila heppneri (#4784.1), Heppner’s Petrophila

Below I describe the best field marks that I can find for each species along with notes on their range and occurrence (or non-occurrence) in Texas. I include a link either to the iNat species page or a particularly good example of each species. Abbreviations: FW = forewing, HW = hindwing, AM = antemedial, PM = postmedial.

SPECIES WELL-ESTABLISHED IN TEXAS:

DEVIL’S RIVER PETROPHILA
https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/23023105
This is one of the most recognizable Petrophila’s. It has the most extensive golden yellow color on both the FWs and HWs. In particular, the yellow on the HW goes all the way out to the row of submarginal black eyespots.
This species is primarily a Texas Hill Country specialist, being most frequently encountered near the rivers and streams draining the southern edge of the Edwards Plateau. But it has also been recorded in Hays and Comal Counties and there is an iNat record in San Luis Potosi, Mexico.

CAPPS’ PETROPHILA
https://www.inaturalist.org/taxa/930443-Petrophila-cappsi
This species has long been overlooked. The forewings are nearly identical to Two-banded Petrophila but the HW is distinctive in having a black line forming an open loop in the middle instead of a solid black blotch. I’m still working on how to separate those two species when only the FWs are visible. I had previously mistaken this species for Kearfott’s Petrophila, but that species has the two median orange bands on the FWs of equal width and has a dark line over the innermost black eyespots on the HW. Kearfott’s is rare in Texas, if it occurs here at all.
Originally described from Kerrville, Capp’s Petrophila is now known to range from the Devil’s River, across all of the Edwards Plateau, up through the DFW area into south-central Oklahoma. It thus overlaps broadly with Two-banded in Texas but it seems to be much less common.

TWO-BANDED PETROPHILA
https://www.inaturalist.org/taxa/227599-Petrophila-bifascialis
When the HW is in good view, this species is easy to recognize by the sold black blotch in the middle of the white area. Otherwise, it looks a lot like Capps’ Petrophila. The brown/orange bands on either side of the median white line on the FWs are of different widths, the outer one being considerably narrower. That will distinguish this species from Kearfott’s but the two probably don’t overlap in range. Lange (1956) suggested that Two-banded might occasionally have an open loop on the HW, a rumor carried forward by Munroe (1972), but I can find no evidence that this is true. All such Petrophila's in Texas with an open loop are now identified as Capps' Petrophila.
Two-banded is probably the next most common Petrophila in Texas after Jalisco. It occurs in a broad band from Monterrey, Mexico, through south Texas, the Edwards Plateau, and up through north-central Texas into south-central Oklahoma. Curiously, it has not been found in East Texas; there is a significant gap in its range between Oklahoma/Texas and the rest of its widespread population in the northeast U.S.

JALISCO PETROPHILA
https://www.inaturalist.org/taxa/349846-Petrophila-jaliscalis
Readily recognizable in most instances by the reddish brown or burnt orange color swatches on the FWs and HWs. Worn examples can look paler orange or even pink. The HW is extensively speckled in the middle with a narrow white band in front of the submarginal eyespots. There is no dark line over those eyespots.
Jalisco Petrophila is by far the most frequently encountered Petrophila in the Edwards Plateau and up to north-central Texas and into Oklahoma. There are small numbers of records just a bit east of I-35 but it doesn’t occur in East Texas. It ranges well down into Mexico, and westward across southern New Mexico, Arizona, and through much of California. Until recently, many online images and some barcoded specimens were erroneously labeled as “Petrophila santafealis” but I have cleared up that mess (Sexton, C. 2019. Southern Lep. News 41(3):216-225).

SPRING PETROPHILA
https://www.inaturalist.org/taxa/501965-Petrophila-avernalis
This is another species which has been confused in the literature and images. It has a conspicuous zigzag median white line and the PM area is usually the darkest area of the FW; it often shows a bold white-black-white dash or blotch in the middle of the PM area; the first of the two subapical white wedges is notably squiggly as it approaches the costal margin.. Compared to other similar species, all the white crosslines on the FW are crisp and bold. When the HW is visible, it is more easily recognized due to the presence of about 7 or 8 small submarginal eyespots rather than the 5 or 6 larger ones on most other species; the middle of the HW is grizzled gray nearly to the edge of the eyespots. Also, the HW has a continuous orange terminal line (usually alternating black and orange in most other species). The species has been confused with Long-winged and Crony Petrophila; online images are still not fully squared away.
Spring Petrophila ranges from Arizona and Colorado, south through New Mexico and the Trans-Pecos of Texas, thence into Mexico. An image in Knudson & Bordelon’s illustrated checklist for the Davis Mountains labeled “Petrophila cronialis” appears to be a standard Spring Petrophila.
I selected the common name “Spring Petrophila” as an adaptation of the Latin epithet “avernalis”. The species actually flies from February to September.

SCHAEFFER’S PETROPHILA
https://www.inaturalist.org/taxa/472574-Petrophila-schaefferalis
This species is grizzled dark gray-brown with little evidence of the underlying typical Petrophila pattern of bands and wedges, not unlike Long-winged, but smaller and darker than that species. The more basal of the two subapical white wedges is quite narrow and curves strongly towards the wing base as it approaches the costa. There is a small dark dusky discal loop in the middle of the PM area of the FW which shows up on most images. The HW margin has two alternating series of four small eyespots; the rest of the HW is fairly uniformly grizzled dark gray-brown with no white band in front of the marginal eyespots.
Schaeffer’s Petrophila has a broad range from southern California to west Texas (Trans-Pecos and High Plains) but is sparse everywhere.

HEPPNER’S PETROPHILA
[SEE IMPORTANT UPDATE HERE: https://www.inaturalist.org/journal/gcwarbler/39051-another-a-hah-moment-with-petrophila-moths]

https://www.inaturalist.org/taxa/560096-Petrophila-heppneri
After years of confusion with Feather-edged and Confusing Petrophila’s, we’ve only recently begun to recognize that Heppner’s Petrophila is the Texas regional representative of this set of closely-similar species. The color patches on the FWs are light yellow-orange. It is a fairly small species with a prominent zigzag medial white line, and an orange-filled, dusky oval loop in the middle of the PM area of the FW. There is a prominent orange tornal wedge extending from the anal angle of the FW diagonally back into the middle of the wing (but has less extensive orange than on Devil's River Petrophila). The PM area of the HW is speckled dark gray brown. The series of big submarginal eyespots has an irregular line capping the innermost two or three, a mark absent on most other Texas species. The species is extremely similar to Feather-edged Petrophila.
Heppner’s Petrophila is now recognized as ranging widely from the western Edwards Plateau, up to North Texas, and as far southeast as College Station and Houston. It is likely to occur in adjacent areas of northeast Mexico, and may also range up into south-central Oklahoma. When you get up into the oak-hickory forests of northeastern Oklahoma, you’re into the range of a different regional representative of the group, Hodges’ (or Ozark) Petrophila. True Feather-edged Petrophila occurs mainly east of the Mississippi River, and Confused Petrophila is a West Coast species. Heppner's Petrophila was originally described from Kerr Co., TX, and is apparently mostly confined to the southern half of the Texas Hill Country, east to the Balcones Escarpment, and west to about the Devil's River. Blanchard & Knudson cite an occurrence on the coastal plain in Colorado County which I find questionable.

FEATHER-EDGED PETROPHILA
https://www.inaturalist.org/taxa/227601-Petrophila-fulicalis
See: https://www.inaturalist.org/journal/gcwarbler/39051-another-a-hah-moment-with-petrophila-moths
Moths essentially identical in pattern to examples of Feather-edged Petrophila from east of the Mississippi River occur in north-central, central, and south Texas as far as Harris, Starr, and Terrell counties. This range overlaps with the very similar Heppner's Petrophila in the Hill Country but the two may not occur together locally.

*SPECIES WHICH ARE RARE OR ERRONEOUSLY REPORTED IN TEXAS:

KEARFOTT’S PETROPHILA
https://www.inaturalist.org/taxa/359781-Petrophila-kearfottalis
Munroe indicated that Kearfott’s Petrophila ranges into “western Texas” but after having clarified how to ID this and separate it from Capps’ Petrophila, I have found NO online images or reports of the species here. It can be recognized by: (a) wide, equal width orange bands on either side of the median white line on the FW, (b) whitish basal and PM area of the FW with little speckling, (c) HW has an open black loop in the middle (like Capps’) but also has a thin black line over some of the submarginal eyespots.
Kearfott’s Petrophila ranges from southern California, east to New Mexico and north through the Rocky Mountain region to Idaho and Montana. It may yet be found in the Trans-Pecos of Texas; I’d expect it to be present in McKittrick Canyon in Guadalupe Mountains NP.

CONFUSING PETROPHILA
https://www.inaturalist.org/taxa/227600-Petrophila-confusalis
This aptly named species is a member of the widespread “fulicalis-species group” which includes 6 species spread from coast to coast, but the ranges of most of them don’t overlap. There were a few reports of this species from Texas and adjacent Mexico, but we now know that those refer to either Feather-edged Petrophila or the regional endemic Heppner’s Petrophila. The whole set of species has extremely similar wing patterns and some may not even be specifically distinct.
Confusing Petrophila ranges from California north to British Columbia and east to Nevada, Idaho, and Montana.

CRONY PETROPHILA
[There are no good illustrations of confidently identified examples.]
A mysterious species which Munroe (1972, p. 129) indicated ranges from Nogales and the Huachuca Mts of Arizona south into Mexico. He did not illustrate either the adult nor the genitalia. The original illustration by Druce (1896) in Biologia Centrali-Americana looks at best like a generalized Petrophila and Munroe’s description is also pretty generic. This has left everyone guessing at what ought to be “Petrophila cronialis”. There is one BIN on BOLD Systems (BOLD:ADK0852) which has been labeled cronialis; all of the specimens are from Yavapai County, AZ, which also happens to be the type locality of a newly-described species P. anna (Solis & Tuskes 2018) which incidentally matches the old descriptions of cronialis. I suspect that P. anna will be found to be a synonym of P. cronialis.
As mentioned above, Knudson & Bordelon illustrate a specimen purporting to be P. cronialis in their Davis Mts illustrated checklist, but it appears to be a pretty typical Spring Petrophila.

LONG-WINGED PETROPHILA
https://bugguide.net/node/view/1593809
http://v3.boldsystems.org/index.php/Public_BarcodeCluster?clusteruri=BOLD:AAH5276 (a series of unspread specimens in poor condition)
This is the other Petrophila which has a row of about 8 small black eyespots on the margin of the HW instead of the 5 or 6 larger ones. It shares this with Spring Petrophila (above). As implied by the English name I’ve provided, it is a giant in the genus with FWs as long as 15-16 mm in the female, a bit smaller in the male. The FWs are extensively grizzled gray-brown, obscuring most of the underlying typical Petrophila series of bands and wedges. The obscure medial white line is zigzag as in Spring Petrophila, but the more basal of the two white subapical wedges is quite thin, much narrower than the subterminal one, and it is usually concave basally. The HW has extensive gray grizzling, much finer than the speckling of many other Petrophila’s.
Knudson & Bordelon include it on their Texas checklist (Jan 2018 edition) but I have found no solid records of the species in Texas (none on iNat, BG, MPG, BOLD, SCAN, or GBIF). MPG and BOLD (BIN BOLD:AAH5276, but not AAI4817) have records of Long-winged only in Arizona.

Posted by gcwarbler gcwarbler, August 30, 2019 18:56

Comments

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This will be very helpful. I know it was a lot of work and I and other appreciate it.
Thank you.
Ann Gordon (anmgo)

Posted by anmgo about 1 year ago (Flag)
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Simply spectacular. Other moth-er's need to see this too (if they haven't already!):
@annikaml @kimberlietx @cgritz @mako252 @krancmm @jeffmci9 @ptexis @ecarpe @tdavenport @amzapp @bosqueaaron @jciv @pfau_tarleton

Chuck, you are the BEST!

Posted by sambiology about 1 year ago (Flag)
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AWESOME!!! Thanks!

Posted by annikaml about 1 year ago (Flag)
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Already got it bookmarked!

Posted by kimberlietx about 1 year ago (Flag)
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FYI, I've added a link to this journal entry on the Petrophila genus page and each of the relevant species pages, in the "About" section.

Posted by gcwarbler about 1 year ago (Flag)
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Bookmarked for me too! Wish we had more of this intriguing genus here.

Posted by amzapp about 1 year ago (Flag)
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You do beautiful work, Chuck!

Posted by pfau_tarleton about 1 year ago (Flag)
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Well, thankfully I've never had a Petrophila here in coastal SE TX. But should I ever, I'll now know how to ID it.

Good work, Chuck!

@hanly Pat, you might find this interesting.

Posted by krancmm about 1 year ago (Flag)
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Perfect timing! JC sent me a link to this post which I'd have never seen with my lack of iNat skills, and I was able to ID a Petrophila (jaliscalis) photographed at Warbler Woods 5 years ago. Thanks, Chuck.

Posted by mike334 about 1 year ago (Flag)
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Posted by gcwarbler about 2 months ago (Flag)
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Thanks, Chuck. This is a great contribution.

Posted by ptexis about 2 months ago (Flag)

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