Hemileuca nevadensis ssp. 3
Great Lakes Buckmoth
Other English Common Names: Midwestern Fen Buckmoth
Synonym(s): Hemileuca sp. 3
Taxonomic Status: Accepted
Unique Identifier: ELEMENT_GLOBAL.2.721455
Element Code: IILEW0M053
Informal Taxonomy: Animals, Invertebrates - Insects - Butterflies and Moths - Giant Silkworm and Royal Moths
Kingdom Phylum Class Order Family Genus
Animalia Mandibulata Insecta Lepidoptera Saturniidae Hemileuca
Genus Size: C - Small genus (6-20 species)
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Concept Reference
Concept Reference: Schweitzer, Dale F. Terrestrial Invertebrate Zoologist, NatureServe. 1761 Main St. Port Norris, NJ 08349. 856-785-2470.
Concept Reference Code: PNDSCH01EHUS
Name Used in Concept Reference: Hemileuca nevadensis ssp. 3
Taxonomic Comments: This taxon is most of the "Great Lakes region populations" of Tuskes, Tuttle and Collins (1996). It appears to blend into H. nevadensis (or more specifically latifascia) in a narrow zone of contact in Wisconsin, but is apparently virtually totally reproductively isolated from H. maia. Adults become darker with narrower bands southward at least through Michigan (Scholtens and Wagner (1997) and band width and darkness are variable in all populations of all taxa. Not all adults from southern most populations, especially in Lucas County, Ohio, are separable from H. maia (see Plate 14 of Tuskes et al., 1996), although most examined from there are slightly more translucent. Apparently all eggs are easily separable by size and color and last instar larvae by several color and usually spine characters from H. maia and about 99% of pupae lack the waxy coating apparently always found on H. maia. See discussion under the full species H. nevadensis.

All evidence reviewed by Schweitzer for the USFWS in 2003 suggests these midwestern populations are conspecific with the taxon latifascia and without more compelling evidence to the contrary, the traditional synonymy of that taxon with nevadensis is retained. Scholtens and Wagner (1997) among others also concluded that if these populations are not conspecific with H. maia they should be considered H. nevadensis. Nearly all observations published and otherwise (e.g. numerous observations in three states by D. Schweitzer) point to strong pheromonal isolation in addition to habitat separation from H. maia. Females of either cannot attract males of the other. Such pheromonal isolation between sympatric congeneric Saturniidae is unusual in eastern North America and based on discussions in Tuskes et al. (1996) it appears species pairs such as Hemileuca maia and H. lucina, Hyalophora cecropia and H. columbia, Automeris io and A. louisiana, and all three species of Callosamia maintain themselves in sympatry without pheromonal barriers such as exist between Great Lakes Buckmoths and H. maia.

However Great Lakes Buckmoth larvae have narrower spiracular bands than normal latifascia larvae and less dorsal yellow, but they still have prominent yellow patterns (unlike sympatric or nearby Michigan or New Jersey H. maia) and brown heads (like at least some [all?] latifascia but unlike apparently both maia and typical nevadensis) and some such populations use foodplants in addition to the normal Salicaceae. Their adults are clearly clinal (north to south) in wing darkness, wing size, and band width (Scholtens and Wagner, 1997) but nevertheless are almost all easily separated from more typical nevadensis (or latifascia) by their narrower wing bands which overlap more with H. maia. Overall this complex is easily recognizable as larvae and usually as adults. Populations in Douglas County in northwestern Wisconsin have larvae of the latifascia phenotype found in Minnesota and North Dakota but adult phenotypes which range from very narrow wing bands to indistinguishable from latifascia. Les Ferge has reared the full range from one wild cohort. Populations in central Wisconsin apparently resemble other Great Lakes populations in larval coloration and usually as adults (l. Ferge), but according to Ferguson (1971) some individuals of the wider wing banded phenotype occur down to about Madison. Thus while there is a blend zone, Great Lakes buckmoth populations are not widely clinal with latifascia and larvae appear to change little from southern Wisconsin into Ohio and in lower Michigan. While adults tend toward narrower wing bands and darker coloration in the southeastern part of this range, the difference is gradual, variable and slight unless extreme northern Michigan populations are compared to southern ones and even so there is some overlap in all characters. Great Lakes larvae resemble latifascia but differ in their reduced pattern and do not seem to vary much geographically based on small samples examined from Ohio, Indiana, southern Michigan and Wisconsin. The eggs are like others in the nevadensis complex and substantially smaller than those of H. maia and differing in color.

The Great Lakes buckmoth is a recognizable taxon apparently conspecific with H. nevadensis (or at least latifascia) and strongly isolated from H. maia, including even pheromonal incompatibility which is not normally found in sympatric congeneric Hemileucinae or Attacinae. Great Lakes buckmoths seem far more deserving of subspecies status than most Lepidoptera so designated. This subspecies varies clinally from north to south in translucence versus darkness of the wings being darkest southward and size also increases and forewing band width decreases from north to south. See Scholtens and Wagner (1997). Still even when examining only pinned adults most to all (depending on locality) are easily recognized as apparently are virtually all last instar larvae.

While they are apparently now pheromonally incompatible it is possible, as has often been suggested, that these Great Lakes populations have some hybrid ancestry with H. maia. However the main character supporting this appears to be the intermediate wing band which becomes narrower (i.e. more maia-like) southward in Michigan (Scholtens and Wagner, 1997). It is also possible and perhaps more likely Great Lakes Buckmoths retain the ancestral wing band condition and that both the wider banded nevadensis-latifascia and narrower banded but overlapping maia (and even narrower stonei and grotei) phenotypes evolved from this condition. The fact that virtually the full range of wing band characters can occur in a single cohort and varies within all populations suggests that character should not be weighted heavily taxonomically.

This subspecies as here defined includes all known wetland or willow-poplar feeding buckmoths from central Wisconsin south to northern Illinois through Michigan and northern Indiana and also the willow feeding populations in northern Ohio, including Lucas County where some adults are probably indistinguishable from H. maia but many others and apparently all larvae (reared by Schweitzer and others) remain distinctive. The Menyanthes specialists in northwest New York and Ontario are not included although it seems likely they are the same species and that plant is used to some extent along with willows in Wisconsin.

A population of the oak feeding H. maia (adults and larvae det. D. F. Schweitzer) at least formerly occurred within its range in Barry County, Michigan but otherwise this subspecies appears allopatric to all other buckmoths except for its small contact zone with more typical H. nevadensis (latifascia). H. nevadensis (as subspecies 2) and H. maia are also sympatric in different habitats in Sussex County, New Jersey. The Lucas County, Ohio region also appears suitable for true H. maia but no oak feeding populations (i.e. H. maia) have actually been documented there.

This account by Dale Schweitzer
Conservation Status

NatureServe Status

Global Status: G5T3T4
Global Status Last Reviewed: 17Nov2003
Global Status Last Changed: 17Nov2003
Rounded Global Status: T3 - Vulnerable
Reasons: Very local in a moderate range, but clearly many undiscovered occurrences in Michigan and Wisconsin.
Nation: United States
National Status: N3N4 (17Nov2003)

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 Illinois (SNR), Indiana (S1?), Michigan (SNR), Ohio (SNR), Pennsylvania (S1), Wisconsin (S3)

Other Statuses

NatureServe Global Conservation Status Factors

Range Extent: 250-2,500,000 square km (about 100-1,000,000 square miles)
Range Extent Comments: Known from northwestern Ohio and northern Indiana most of Michigan and much of Wisconsin, and unconfirmed for Erie County, Pennsylvania. Apparently was present in Chicago area also. There is a blend zone with H. nevadensis (=latifascia) in Douglas County Wisconsin.

Number of Occurrences: 21 - 80
Number of Occurrences Comments: About 10-20 EOs confirmed in 1987; others certainly exist. Habitat is moderately widespread in midwest.

Population Size: Unknown
Population Size Comments: EOs seen seemed to be small, probably none would rank A.

Overall Threat Impact Comments: Threats are difficult to evaluate.

Short-term Trend: Decline of <30% to relatively stable

Long-term Trend: Decline of 10-90%

Intrinsic Vulnerability Comments: Habitat very buffered from floods/drought. Numbers at better fens probably stable, except crashing after burns.

Other NatureServe Conservation Status Information

Inventory Needs: Look for in other fens, PA-WI. Best sought as adults in early Oct or larvae in late May. Could find larvae to July.

Protection Needs: Protect selected A-B rank EOs throughout range. May need alteration in burn strategies at some "protected" sites.

Global Range: (250-2,500,000 square km (about 100-1,000,000 square miles)) Known from northwestern Ohio and northern Indiana most of Michigan and much of Wisconsin, and unconfirmed for Erie County, Pennsylvania. Apparently was present in Chicago area also. There is a blend zone with H. nevadensis (=latifascia) in Douglas County Wisconsin.

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.

U.S. & Canada State/Province Distribution
United States IL, IN, MI, OH, PA, WI

Range Map
No map available.

U.S. Distribution by County Help
State County Name (FIPS Code)
IN Kosciusko (18085), Lagrange (18087)
WI Douglas (55031), Jackson (55053)*, Juneau (55057), Marathon (55073)*, Marquette (55077), Ozaukee (55089), Portage (55097), Waukesha (55133), Wood (55141)
* Extirpated/possibly extirpated
U.S. Distribution by Watershed Help
Watershed Region Help Watershed Name (Watershed Code)
04 Upper Fox (04030201)+, Wolf (04030202)+*, Milwaukee (04040003)+, St. Joseph (04050001)+
05 Tippecanoe (05120106)+
07 Upper St. Croix (07030001)+, Black (07040007)+, Castle Rock (07070003)+, Crawfish (07090002)+
+ Natural heritage record(s) exist for this watershed
* Extirpated/possibly extirpated
Ecology & Life History
Basic Description: Moth, Saturniidae. A buckmoth.
Diagnostic Characteristics: Similar to H. MAIA, but larvae look quite different and the ecology matches H. NEVADENSIS.
Reproduction Comments: Hybridizes in captivity; males sometimes respond to H. NEVADENSIS, but not at all to H. MAIA subspecies.
Non-Migrant: N
Locally Migrant: N
Long Distance Migrant: N
Mobility and Migration Comments: Adults do move between fens, but it is not known how far.
Palustrine Habitat(s): Bog/fen, SCRUB-SHRUB WETLAND
Habitat Comments: Mostly a taxon of calcareous shrub swamps, carrs and fens.
Adult Food Habits: Nonfeeding
Immature Food Habits: Herbivore
Food Comments: Eggs are usually laid on, and larvae feed mostly on, small willows--apparently of any species. Some populations also use bog birch, purple loosestrife and MENYANTHES, and perhaps others, to varying degrees.
Adult Phenology: Diurnal
Immature Phenology: Diurnal, Hibernates/aestivates
Phenology Comments: Adults occur in late September or early October in most places, earlier northward. Eggs overwinter and hatch generally in May. The larval stage is less than two months.
Economic Attributes Not yet assessed
Management Summary
Biological Research Needs: Determine impact of fires on eggs; work out optimum burn frequency.
Population/Occurrence Delineation
Group Name: Hemileuca in part: Wetland Taxa

Use Class: Not applicable
Minimum Criteria for an Occurrence: A location where the taxon occurs, or has occurred, with potential for persistence or regular recurrence. Minimally a fen, bog, marsh, willow seep, or other suitable habitat (depends on species) where the taxon has been verified and which supports sufficient foodplant and habitat to sustain a population or (most highly ranked EOs) a metapopulation.
Mapping Guidance: For taxa east of the Great Plains, habitat boundaries generally are very discrete and eastward usually correspond to a well known fen or similar community for "species" 1,2,3. For H. LUCINA the boundaries are obvious in the field based on patrolling males or distribution of larvae, but may not correspond to natural communities as defined by botanists. Often though they are easily mappable such as wet areas in powerlines etc. In general with fens or bogs the entire community should be mapped as the EO even though the population may be somewhat concentrated in certain parts and even absent from some sections where the foodplant is sparse. Given the small scale of these habitats (usually <20 hectares) and the fact the moths need a certain amount of space it does not usually make sense to try to sub-divide small habitats unless the occurrence is clearly confined to one easily mappable portion. On the other hand in riparian situations it would be very reasonable to include only the sunny side if one side is heavily shaded at mid day during the adult flight (sometime in autumn) season by mountains or forest.
Note though that mere presence of the foodplant does not define suitable habitat--especially in forested regions. Vegetation structure, usually an open, sunny low shrubby aspect, can be important. It is likely that wet substrate, or for more eastern taxa even peat, is also directly important. Also none of these wetland species will apparently enter forests and they avoid shaded areas when active. Therefore shaded stands of foodplant are usually not suitable habitat.

Separation Barriers: None known. For H. LUCINA gravid females will readily fly over forests, developed areas and other highly unsuitable environments (Schweitzer many observations and unpublished data). The ecologically dissimilar H. MAIA also moves over unsuitable habitats including urbanized areas. It is therefore assumed that the H. NEVADENSIS complex taxa (which are most of this SPECS GROUP) will do the same.
Separation Distance for Unsuitable Habitat: 2 km
Separation Distance for Suitable Habitat: 10 km
Alternate Separation Procedure: When connected by obvious linear dispersal corridors leading directly between habitats, such as shrubby riverbanks or powerlines, use 5 kilometers. This is based on the fact that buckmoth females (H. LUCINA and MAIA at least) commonly move more than a kilometer--in fact most H.LUCINA females from high density populations probably do. Movements up to at least 4 km have been actually documented (Schweitzer, unpublished) and may be common in some circumstances.
Separation Justification: While 2 kilometers seems low for large mobile moths, it takes into account that fens and bogs can be quite isolated in the environment and also quite small. When this is the case two kilometers should largely separate two occurrences even though it is unlikely such a distance would completely prevent gene flow unless both sources are small low quality EOs.
While populations of buckmoths may or may not seem patchy in a given year, over time (<< one decade) they occupy nearly all available suitable habitat. They are actually generally present pretty much throughout in most years but densities may vary in space and time. For example larvae are likely to be absent or very nearly so for a season in the affected area following a fall, winter or spring fire burning part of the habitat. The concept of unoccupied contiguous suitable habitat is generally moot. While very few wetland buckmoth habitats in fact do stretch for 10 km, it would be unreasonable to treat observations that close together separated by suitable or marginal habitat as separate. This seems most likely to apply with H. NEVADENSIS along riparian corridors with shrubby willows widely distributed.
It is worth noting that the taxonomically close but ecologically different H. MAIA fully fills more than 500,000 hectares of suitable and marginal essentially contiguous habitat in the New Jersey outer coastal plain. Schweitzer attempted and failed to locate unoccupied marginal peripheral habitats there in the 1980s and 1990s. So members of this group are apparently only localized when they are forced to be by habitat constraints.

Inferred Minimum Extent of Habitat Use (when actual extent is unknown): .5 km
Inferred Minimum Extent Justification: In virtually all circumstances the IE is the full extent of contiguous or nearly contiguous habitat in the area and usually this will be a few hectares to a few hundred hectares. However, if the habitat does extend for several kilometers it is suggested IE be arbitrarily capped at 0.5 radius pending additional field work. In part this reflects the fact that suitable habitat can be difficult to define unless one is experienced with the taxon in that region. Also habitats are not often more than 100 hectares.
Date: 05Sep2001
Author: Schweitzer, Dale F.
Notes: The taxa currently tracked as "species" 1 and 2, that is the New York-Ontario and New Jersey components of the Great Lakes complex by Tuskes et al. (1996) are included here with reservation. At present it appears both are reduced to so few occurrences that each fen should probably simply called an occurrence regardless of context. These may be so isolated that any dispersal tendency has been selected out of these populations. Still if any two fens where these occur are within one kilometer of each other they should be considered one occurrence.
Population/Occurrence Viability
U.S. Invasive Species Impact Rank (I-Rank) Not yet assessed
NatureServe Conservation Status Factors Edition Date: 17Nov2003
NatureServe Conservation Status Factors Author: Schweitzer, D.F.
Element Ecology & Life History Edition Date: 18Sep1999
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).

  • Natural Resources Commission. 2014. Roster of Indiana Animals, Insects, and Plants That Are Extirpated, Endangered, Threatened or Rare. Information Bulletin #2 (Sixth Amendment. 20pp.

  • Tuskes, P. M., J. P. Tuttle, and M. M. Collins. 1996. The Wild Silk Moths of North America: A Natural History of the Saturniidae of the United States and Canada. Cornell University Press, Ithaca, New York. 250 pp.

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