Noctuoidea phylogenetics

Noctuoid moth

Noctuid Moth, Trigonodes hyppasia © Bernard DUPONT, licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Principal Investigators

Project summary

  • Focus: resolving the higher level classification of Noctuoidea

This large-scale project, with members from the Life Sciences department and colleagues from Finland and Canada, aims to resolve the higher level classification of Noctuoidea.

Noctuoidea are the largest superfamily within the Lepidoptera, with some 43,000 described species. They are of particular interest economically as the caterpillars of many noctuoids are crop pests.

Noctuoid moths include those commonly known as prominents, tiger moths, owlet moths, cutworms and underwings.

Although the monophyly of Noctuoidea is well-established, its constituent families remain poorly understood.


The team have now analysed the largest molecular data set for noctuoid moths ever, sequencing eight gene regions from almost 500 species.

Comparing our molecular analysis with previous morphological and molecular data has provided some novel patterns of relationship.

The first analysis found that the monophyly of Noctuoidea was strongly supported, and six groups were recovered and given family status, namely:

  • Oenosandridae
  • Notodontidae
  • Erebidae
  • Nolidae
  • Euteliidae
  • Noctuidae

Further studies produced refined classifications of families Erebidae and Nolidae, and work is under way to resolve the relationships within Euteliidae and among the basal lineages of all families, many of which have never been studied in a phylogenetic context.

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