What are erebine moths?

Erebinae is one of the most diverse subfamilies in the Erebidae, and is estimated to include roughly 10,000 species. While the Erebinae occur worldwide, the greatest species richness occurs in the topics.  Adults wing spans range from under 2cm to nearly 30cm in the White Witch moth (Thysania agrippina). The caterpillars of Erebinae feed on a wide range of hostplants. Some lineages specialize in legumes and grasses, and a few species are pests of sugarcane and rice. Erebine moths also possess a range of adaptations for predator defense. They are thought to have some of the most sensitive hearing organs (tympana) of the Lepidoptera, allowing the moths to detect incoming bats and take evasive action. One species in New Guinea flies during the day and mimics a colorful wasp, but most are nocturnal and drably colored for camouflage. However, a number of these cryptically colored species possess bright, contrasting coloration which is concealed when the moth is at rest. The most classic example of this occurs in the Underwing moths (Catocala). When the moth is disturbed, this bright coloration is revealed. The sudden exposure of this coloration is thought to startle predatory birds, giving the moth a better chance of escape. 

Where major gaps lie

Currently, the Erebinae fauna in most parts of the world cannot be identified accurately without expert help. Resources for identifications are limited, and many species can only be identified by reference to arcane original descriptions or a major museum collection. Furthermore, many Erebinae remain formally placed in taxonomic framework now over a century old, with extensive morphological homoplasy (distantly related moths outwardly appearing similar) limiting the usefulness of morphological characters to the higher-level classification of Erebinae. Since accurate identifications of species are necessary for studies of ecology and evolution, the biology of most Erebine moths is not well understood. The Erebinae is only a recently defined concept, primarily based on the results of molecular studies by Zahiri et al. (2012). There is no reliable feature to diagnose all Erebinae, but many share a combination morphological features which are thought to be synapormorphies for the subfamily. These recent studies have made great strides in clarifying our understanding of relationships within the Erebinae. However, sampling relative to their diversity remains sparse, and many genera still must be placed in the current phylogenetic framework.