Acronicta albarufa - Grote, 1874
Barrens Dagger Moth
Other English Common Names: barrens dagger moth
Taxonomic Status: Accepted
Unique Identifier: ELEMENT_GLOBAL.2.112043
Element Code: IILEYAQ180
Informal Taxonomy: Animals, Invertebrates - Insects - Butterflies and Moths - Other Moths
Kingdom Phylum Class Order Family Genus
Animalia Mandibulata Insecta Lepidoptera Noctuidae Acronicta
Genus Size: D - Medium to large genus (21+ species)
Check this box to expand all report sections:
Concept Reference
Concept Reference: Hodges, R.W. et al., eds. 1983. Check List of the Lepidoptera of America North of Mexico. E.W. Classey Limited and The Wedge Entomological Research Foundation, London. 284 pp.
Concept Reference Code: B83HOD01HQUS
Name Used in Concept Reference: Acronicta albarufa
Taxonomic Comments: A very distinctive outlier of the A. ovata group. Specimens from Oklahoma and westward are paler (especially the male hindwing) but do not appear to be a different species. There has been some confusion with A. exempta, the type of which is not A. albarufa. There is little or no geographic variation from Arkansas north and east. The above is based largely on specimens at USNM examined by D. Schweitzer 3 March, 1999.
Conservation Status

NatureServe Status

Global Status: G3G4
Global Status Last Reviewed: 23May2005
Global Status Last Changed: 19Sep1999
Rounded Global Status: G3 - Vulnerable
Reasons: Rare or extirpated and now extremely fragmented range outside of Missouri, where it is apparently still widespread in the Ozarks (J.R. Heitzman). However, east of there the species is extremely spotty and localized with obvious evidence of past decline but seems rather stable now. It is absent from vast areas within its overall range and historic in several states such as Pennsylvania and Connecticut where there are specimens. New Jersey and Massachusetts, at three known occurrences each, are the apparent strongholds outside of the Ozarks. Ecology poorly understood and no clue as to cause of decline in most cases. Also unclear why it is absent from so many seemingly suitable places. No information from southwestern states and uncertain specimens from there are this species.
Nation: United States
National Status: NNR
Nation: Canada
National Status: N2 (12Feb2017)

U.S. & Canada State/Province Status
Due to latency between updates made in state, provincial or other NatureServe Network databases and when they appear on NatureServe Explorer, for state or provincial information you may wish to contact the data steward in your jurisdiction to obtain the most current data. Please refer to our Distribution Data Sources to find contact information for your jurisdiction.
United States Arkansas (SNR), Colorado (SH), Connecticut (SX), Georgia (S2), Massachusetts (S2S3), Missouri (S3S4), New Hampshire (SNR), New Jersey (SU), New Mexico (SX), New York (S1), North Carolina (S1S2), Ohio (SX), Pennsylvania (SH), Virginia (S1S3)
Canada Manitoba (S2), Ontario (S1)

Other Statuses

NatureServe Global Conservation Status Factors

Range Extent: 200,000-2,500,000 square km (about 80,000-1,000,000 square miles)
Range Extent Comments: A very fragmented range, with two main portions and some outliers: discontinuoulsy from eastern Massachusetts to Albany, New York south to southern New Jersey and the North Carolina piedmont sand hills; also the Ozarks of Missouri and Arkansas to Oklahoma, Colorado and New Mexico. Outliers in southern Manitoba, the Grand Bend-Port Franks area of southern Ontario. Enormous gaps in the known range such as a huge one apparently including most of Pennsylvania, and all of Delaware, Maryland, Ohio, West Virginia, Kentucky, Michigan, Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin and Minnesota. This species is fairly common in the Ozarks but known from rather few places in the rest of its range.

Area of Occupancy: 126 to >12,500 4-km2 grid cells
Area of Occupancy Comments:  

Number of Occurrences: 21 to >300
Number of Occurrences Comments: With habitat so unlcear difficult to guess number of occurrences. Clearly almost all seemingly suitable habitats are unoccupied eastward. Seems to be rather common in Ozarks but very few current sites (<10) known elsewhere.

Population Size: Unknown
Population Size Comments: Apparently most common species of genus at two of the three (as of 1995) known New Jersey EOs.

Overall Threat Impact: Very high - medium
Overall Threat Impact Comments: Not now threatened at most known localities but there is potential for this to change as gypsy moth becomes a problem in the Ozarks and as EEG (encephalitis) scares continue to occur occasionally in Massachusetts, especially if as in 1990 massive spraying is not confined to high mosquito areas but also included xeric barrens. Gypsy moth spraying with BTK would almost certainly pose no threat and might be preferable to defoliation but more persistent biocides could be a serious threat. The habitats of this species would be among those most likely to be sprayed. Causes of decline from New Jersey south and west unclear; in New England, decline of pine barrens suspected. Gypsy moth defoliation may be a contributing factor, as probably was massive DDT spraying of New England forests in 1950's. Dimilin probably would eradicate an EO. Mainland Massachusetts population subject to massive mosquito spraying such as in August, 1990. In that case Malathion was used and A. ALBARUFA was little impacted. However, a more lethal (to caterpillars) biocide at that season could eradicate these populations. Massive deer damage which coincided with an aggressive prescribed burning regimen (by itself might have been beneficial) probably has eradicated the Pinery Park portion of the Grand Bend-Port Franks metapopulation (Schweitzer observations in 1993). Deer have or will become a long-term threat in other areas even if not a short term threat now.

Short-term Trend: Decline of <30% to relatively stable
Short-term Trend Comments: Best evidence is this species has been stable in the 1990s and since except presumably has been impacted by extreme damage from deer in combunation with fires (which alone might have been beneficial) in Ontario. Eastern occurrences seem to be mostly on preserves, in parks and on military lands.

Long-term Trend: Decline of 10-90%
Long-term Trend Comments: Has declined eastward except in Ozark region. Due to inadequate older collections, historic range and magnitude of decline are a bit unclear. No information from western part of range--if that is this species. Seems to have decline in New England mostly in the early or mid 20th century, before about 1960. Survived into the early 1980s in the Albany, New York area.

Intrinsic Vulnerability Comments: Seems fragile, but reasons unknown.

Other NatureServe Conservation Status Information

Inventory Needs: Look for this in suitable habitats at blacklight. Dates seem variable, generally most frequent in June and July. Late May into august August with some to early September in New Jersey (very protracted emergence, >2 months) and Missouri.

Protection Needs: Should be several in close proximity to allow for recolonization if local extirpations occur. Needs protection from spraying for gypsy moth with diflubenzuron (Dimilin) but probably little affected by Btk when applied in spring. May need protection from severe gypsy moth defoliation in some situations (e.g. at Manumuskin Preserve, NJ).

Global Range: (200,000-2,500,000 square km (about 80,000-1,000,000 square miles)) A very fragmented range, with two main portions and some outliers: discontinuoulsy from eastern Massachusetts to Albany, New York south to southern New Jersey and the North Carolina piedmont sand hills; also the Ozarks of Missouri and Arkansas to Oklahoma, Colorado and New Mexico. Outliers in southern Manitoba, the Grand Bend-Port Franks area of southern Ontario. Enormous gaps in the known range such as a huge one apparently including most of Pennsylvania, and all of Delaware, Maryland, Ohio, West Virginia, Kentucky, Michigan, Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin and Minnesota. This species is fairly common in the Ozarks but known from rather few places in the rest of its range.

U.S. States and Canadian Provinces

Due to latency between updates made in state, provincial or other NatureServe Network databases and when they appear on NatureServe Explorer, for state or provincial information you may wish to contact the data steward in your jurisdiction to obtain the most current data. Please refer to our Distribution Data Sources to find contact information for your jurisdiction.

Map unavailable!:
Distribution data for U.S. states and Canadian provinces is known to be incomplete or has not been reviewed for this taxon.
Endemism: occurs (regularly, as a native taxon) in multiple nations

U.S. & Canada State/Province Distribution
United States AR, CO, CTextirpated, GA, MA, MO, NC, NH, NJ, NMextirpated, NY, OHextirpated, PA, VA
Canada MB, ON

Range Map
No map available.

U.S. Distribution by County Help
State County Name (FIPS Code)
CT Litchfield (09005)*
MA Barnstable (25001), Dukes (25007), Middlesex (25017)*, Nantucket (25019), Plymouth (25023)
NC Cumberland (37051), Moore (37125), Wake (37183)*
NJ Atlantic (34001), Gloucester (34015)*, Ocean (34029), Salem (34033)*
NY Albany (36001), Suffolk (36103)
PA Wayne (42127)*
VA Hanover (51085)
* Extirpated/possibly extirpated
U.S. Distribution by Watershed Help
Watershed Region Help Watershed Name (Watershed Code)
01 Cape Cod (01090002)+, Housatonic (01100005)+*
02 Middle Hudson (02020006)+, Southern Long Island (02030202)+, Lackawaxen (02040103)+*, Crosswicks-Neshaminy (02040201)+, Lower Delaware (02040202)+*, Cohansey-Maurice (02040206)+*, Mullica-Toms (02040301)+*, Great Egg Harbor (02040302)+, Pamunkey (02080106)+
03 Upper Neuse (03020201)+*, Upper Cape Fear (03030004)+
+ Natural heritage record(s) exist for this watershed
* Extirpated/possibly extirpated
Ecology & Life History
Basic Description: A Dagger Moth
General Description: Similar to members of the A. OVATA complex, but darker than most, esp. the hindwing of the female.
Diagnostic Characteristics: See Forbes (1954) and illustrations in Holland (1903), Rockburne and LaFontaine (1976), and Rings et al. (1992). Note conspicuously brown to slightly orange reniform contining a darker spot, prominent rounded orbicular containing a darker spot, rather dark mottled, blue-gray ground color of forewing, dark brownish hindwing of female, and almost white hindwing with dark veins on most males. A few males have the outer portion of the hindwing somewhat rust tinted and this is quite distinctive. Must be confirmed by an expert. Similar to but much darker than A. OVATA complex (except melanics). Larva not yet adequately characterized but is similar to the A. haesitata-increta group.
Ecology Comments: See Schweitzer 1989 report for speculations regarding causes of decline. No idea of causes in southern New Jersey where there are still tens of thousands acres of seemingly suitable habitat subject to no identifiable threats or disturbances that would affect this species. Gypsy moth spraying probably had a role in its demise northeastward and decline in pine barrens and oak savannahs probably did also, and Compsilura might have. None of these apparently applies to southern New Jersey.
Non-Migrant: N
Locally Migrant: N
Long Distance Migrant: N
Mobility and Migration Comments: non-migratory
Terrestrial Habitat(s): Forest - Hardwood, Forest - Mixed, Savanna, Shrubland/chaparral, Woodland - Hardwood, Woodland - Mixed
Habitat Comments: Dry oak dominated habitats, including black oak or bur oak savannah and overgrown former savannah and pitch pine/scrub oak barrens, and especially ozark oak and oak-hickory woods. Exact habitat varies from place to place and even when known it is very hard to predict the occurrence of this species except perhaps in the Ozarks. One current New Jersey site is the approach zone at Atlantic City International Airport where habitat is oak sprout (mainly scrub oak) areas that are mowed every year or two in winter. Another is an extremely xeric scrubby black oak-post oak woodland with no apparent fire influences. Despite substantial recent efforts in New Jersey this has not been found in ordinary dry oak woods, powerline oak sprouts or in most more typical pine barrens natural habitats such as sprout areas after wildfires, dwarf pine plains etc. Recent collections in Massachusetts have been in very open, xeric scrub oak dominated pine barrens. Except in Missouri, absent from most to nearly all "potential" habitats.
Immature Food Habits: Herbivore
Food Comments: The larvae feed on oaks, with scrub oak Bear Oak the usual foodplant in Massachusetts and probably New York, and almost certainly at one New Jersey site. Larvae have been collected on Post Oak (Quercus stellata Wangenh.) and Dwarf Chinkapin Oak (Q. prinoides Wild.) in New Jersey. Bur Oak (Q. macrocarpa Michx.) is the only oak in the Manitoba range. Larvae are easily reared on Black Oak (Q. velutina Lam.) in captivity and this is a likely foodplant in New Jersey and Ontario, Larvae on black oak require a few days longer than they do on post oak. Young larvae reject Blackjack Oak (Q. marilandica (Linnaeus) Muenchh.).

Adult Phenology: Nocturnal
Phenology Comments: Adults active in late May to early New Jersey and Missouri, and usually July or early August northward, and most prevalent in this period in NJ. The following life history information is entirely from D. F. Schweitzer (unpublished). In NJ eclosion of overwintered pupae kept outdoors was observed to extend from at least early June to mid August for f two reared stocks in 1996. Two cohorts descended from these eclosed from July 7 to August 10 in 1997. In addition eggs laid in mid June will produce a partial second brood of adults in mid or late August. Egg stage is about six days so larvae follow soon after the first adults and should be present almost all summer from early or mid June to mid or late October in New Jersey and Missouri. Larval stage is about 4-5 weeks in summer, about twice that for latest larvae in autumn. Pupae hibernate as in all true ACRONICTINAE. Based on about 279 observations from five reared broods in New Jersey and a few from two Massachusetts broods, it appears that no pupae overwinter twice.
Economic Attributes Not yet assessed
Management Summary
Stewardship Overview: Some habitats for this moth require occasional fires, but probably not all of them, and at least in New Jersey and northward the optimal frequency would often be on the order of two to five per century. Unburned refugia should always be provided, but without knowing exactly where cocoons are placed in nature it is uncertain how severe mortality to pupae, which are nearly always present, would actually be in light ground fires. While both D. F. Schweitzer and Tim L. McCabe have anecdotally noticed some decline of Acronicta species for a season or two after Gypsy Moth outbreaks, it is not likely this species would be seriously affected since the adults peak long after defoliated oaks have produced new leaves-unless larvae cannot develop successfully on refoliated oaks. Dimilin residue from applications one to three months earlier would probably kill most or all larvae, but it is very unlikely BTK applications in May would have any impact and use of BTK should be strongly considered to protect high quality A. albarufa occurrences in eastern portions of its range (where it is rare) if severe defoliation appears imminent. It is quite possible that sprout regeneration of oaks after fires or cutting are optimal habitat, but data are lacking.
Biological Research Needs: Chief need now is to better document habitats in various parts of range.
Population/Occurrence Delineation
Group Name: Pine Barrens Moths

Use Class: Not applicable
Minimum Criteria for an Occurrence: A location with a substantial (generally no less than 100 hectares) pine-shrubby oak-heath barrens or other xeric open pine woodland, where the species is documented as present (or historically present) with potential for continued presence and/or regular recurrence. Minimum documentation required varies somewhat among the species but requires a specimen or diagnostic photograph. Not all collections will represent occurrences as individuals of most of these species do turn up rarely 2-20 kilometers out of habitat. These Specs should also be used for these moths where they occur in oak savannas or other forms of oak woodland scrub. Occurrences ranked higher than C should generally be greater than 1000 hectares if only one patch or at least two patches of 400 hectares each.
Mapping Guidance: In most cases outside of southern New Jersey, available habitat associated with a collection of several these species is small (under 2000 hectares) and the appropriate community (or communities) so well defined and well mapped that EO boundaries for these Lepidoptera should be drawn to coincide with recognized community boundaries or at least to fit within them if the community is too broadly defined to be so used. Even in New Jersey vegetation maps can often be used to define EOs. Consult the habitat and food comments fields for species-specific information on what constitutes suitable habitat when mapping occurrences. In general closed canopy oak-pitch pine-heath forest should not be regarded as suitable habitat for these moths. Where species in this Specs Group occur on smaller ridgetop outcrops map the discrete habitats even though an EO may consist of several proximate patches, most likely all on that ridge.

Almost all species in this Specs Group feed on one or more of the dominant plants (pines, scrub oaks, blueberries) which are normally all abundant throughout pine barrens communities or at least on associated grasses which are patchily widespread. In the northern New York and northern New England barrens scrub oak can become spotty and in some previously severely disturbed parts of the Albany, New York barrens the blueberries and other heaths have not recovered. When mapping occurrences or in considering inferred extent, a given moth species should not be assumed to occupy habitat where its foodplant is scarce or absent or for most species where there is canopy closure of much more than 50%. Such areas are unsuitable habitat just as are closed canopy oak-pine-heath (mainly black huckleberry) forests that surround many pine barrens.

Separation Distance for Unsuitable Habitat: 5 km
Separation Distance for Suitable Habitat: 20 km
Alternate Separation Procedure: If the pine barren community is, or recently (within last 100 years) was, large and more or less contiguous it should be regarded as a single occurrence for any of these species that occur. This is generally the case even if there has been habitat fragmentation and some fragments are now separated by up to the suitable habitat distance. A single pine barrens community occurrence rarely or never supports more than one occurrence for moths in this Specs Group. Most of these moths have poor or no potential to persist in isolated scraps of habitat

Where these moths occur on ridgetop situations all habitats on one ridge system separated by somewhat stunted oak-heath woods, these should be regarded as one occurrence subject to suitable habitat separation distance even though the oak woods may not really be habitat. In most cases the foodplants will occur at least in small patches between the major outcrops which are the main habitats and it will usually be more reasonable to apply the 10 kilometer distance than the 5 kilometer unsuitable habitat figure. However between ridges separation distance should be applied at ground or tree top level and is not merely the minimum distance between the ridge crests. Between ridge separation distance should usually be based on unsuitable habitat.

In the New Jersey Pine Barrens for purely practical reasons separation distances less than those recommended may be used in order to define discrete EOs--however arbitrary. Some subjective discretion in defining suitable vs. unsuitable habitat may be warranted (especially in the Appalachians south of Pennsylvania) if it appears that the barrens affinity of a particular species in the region is not as strong as it typically is in and north and east of Pennsylvania and New Jersey. Compromise distances may sometimes be suitable in marginal habitats.

Separation Justification: These are moths of extensive habitats, likely to be absent in small habitat scraps. Their larvae feed on dominant or at least common plants of one or more layers in the community. Individuals of several of these species including CATOCALA HERODIAS, PSECTRAGLAEA CARNOSA, and DRASTERIA GRAPHICA ATLANTICA have been captured in New Jersey and/or southeastern Massachusetts, but at frequencies of well under one per trap-year, at locations 10-20 kilometers from any substantial habitat patches, and virtually all of them turn up more than a kilometer or two out of habitat, indicating very good dispersal potential. Similarly the generally rare HEMARIS GRACILIS (a pine barrens moth in much of its range) turns up in right of ways supporting low heath vegetation more than 10 kilometers from any other known habitats. CHAETAGLAEA TREMULA commonly establishes minor populations in powerline corridors in New Jersey well south of its core habitats there, presumably by colonization from massive natural barrens areas. Based on samples from in and near Myles Standish State Forest, Massachusetts, in and near the Long Island Dwarf Pine Plains of New York and in New Jersey, in general within a given barrens complex pine barrens moths normally fully occupy all suitable habitat patches, even when habitats are somewhat patchy, or even sharply defined and a few kilometers apart such as near Atlantic City Airport. However note that some species are less tolerant of canopy closure than others so definitions of suitable habitat may differ slightly. No instances are known where highly suitable habitat within 2-5 kilometers of major population centers is consistently unoccupied for any of these species, although data are limited. Based on extensive efforts in 1996-1997 by Dale Schweitzer, the Willow Grove Lake Preserve and vicinity in New Jersey has about 400 hectares of pitch pine-scrub oak-heath woodland but lacks over 90% of potential pine barrens specialist moths including most of those considered common in New Jersey. This preserve is less than 100 kilometers from the main part of the extensive Pine Barrens region, and there are small intervening patches. This suggests that even with a massive (>200,000 hectares) source area distances of a few tens of kilometers can be very effective isolation, although marginal habitat size at Willow Grove Lake is a confounding factor. One or two kilometers would clearly be too short as separation distance for most or all of these species but 10-20 kilometers across non-barrens habitats such as forests, swamps, farms or suburbia seems impracticably large. Therefore 5 kilometers (measured from the edges, not centers) is chosen keeping in mind that for most of the species few or no known occurrences are likely to be less than 2 kilometers across in all dimensions and some are well over 10,000 hectares. In practice outside of New Jersey EOs for most of these species are far apart and except at Shapleigh-Waterboro barrens in Maine there is seldom doubt as to whether occurrences are separate EOs or not. Separation across suitable (but unchecked) habitat needs to be considered mostly in southern New Jersey. While it is completely arbitrary and probably unrealistic to do so, it seems prudent for practical reasons to consider observations more than 20 kilometers apart as separate occurrences pending further sampling which will probably show them to be one EO. If these distances seem large consider that occurrences are long term populations of usually at least thousands of moths capable of flying generally from 2 to 20 km per hour. The suitable habitat distance will probably rarely apply outside of New Jersey.
Inferred Minimum Extent of Habitat Use (when actual extent is unknown): 2 km
Inferred Minimum Extent Justification: Outside of New Jersey few pine barrens exceed 5,000 hectares in size and most are under 1000 hectares which seems to be near the minimum size on which many of these moths are likely to still occur (Schweitzer, personal observations; Givnish et al., 1988; Schweitzer and Rawinski, 1987; Cryan, ca. 1985; Schweitzer, 1996 ). Such occurrences are usually isolated by tens of kilometers or more from one another making boundaries and inferred extent (the entire habitat) isobvious. In larger pine barrens the 2 kilometer radius is unjustifiably small but here suggested as practical. No examples are known where species in this group have been shown or even suspected to occupy much less than all available habitat and most have at least one known occurrence of at least 5000-10000 hectares. Some of these species while of very limited distribution elsewhere are fairly common in the core of the New Jersey Pine Barrens and are almost continuously distributed over tens of thousands of hectares and/or have linear distributions of ten kilometers or more within large habitats. While it is generally unreasonable to assume species in this group occupy much less than all available habitat contiguous to an observation point, some practical upper limit is needed especially in New Jersey. Therefore it is recommended that IE not be extended more than 2 kilometers radius in extensive contiguous suitable habitat, pending further sampling which is nearly certain to show a larger extent. A circle of radius 2 km would define a habitat comparable to some of the smaller occurrences known for most of these species. A circle of one kilometer radius would define a habitat of only 400 hectares and most of these species are likely to be absent from such small remnants (although some, it is unpredictable which, will likely occur) and so it makes no sense to define an Inferred extent smaller than known small occurrences. At least outside of southern New Jersey, in no case should Inferred Extent around individual collection points ever be used to justify recognition of more than one occurrence for these moths in large pine barrens areas.
Date: 17Apr2001
Author: Schweitzer, Dale F.
Population/Occurrence Viability
U.S. Invasive Species Impact Rank (I-Rank) Not yet assessed
NatureServe Conservation Status Factors Edition Date: 21Mar2007
NatureServe Conservation Status Factors Author: Schweitzer, D.F.
Management Information Edition Date: 12Mar2007
Management Information Edition Author: Schweitzer, D.F.
Element Ecology & Life History Edition Date: 21Mar2007
Element Ecology & Life History Author(s): SCHWEITZER, D.F.

Zoological data developed by NatureServe and its network of natural heritage programs (see Local Programs) and other contributors and cooperators (see Sources).

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NOTE: Full metadata for the Bird Range Maps of North America is available at:

Full metadata for the Mammal Range Maps of North America is available at:

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