New York Natural Heritage Program
Coastal Barrens Buckmoth
Hemileuca maia ssp. 5
Insects

Identifying Characteristics [-]
Buckmoths of the species Hemileuca maia in general have a wingspan of 50-75 mm, and black forewings and hind wings, with white semi-translucent bands in the middle. The reniform spot on the forewing has a black border, and it touches the black basal patch. Males have a red-tipped abdomen, and females have a black-tipped abdomen (Covell 1984). The Coastal Barrens Buckmoth subspecies is distinguished by its small size, narrow habitat restriction, and especially by the extensive bright yellow pattern on late-instar larvae that includes a well-defined lateral band in almost all individuals on Long Island. Larvae are otherwise usually black and have branching spines along their back that can sting (Tuskes et al. 1996). The adults are somewhat thinly scaled (NatureServe 2010).

Behavior [-]
Contrary to most moths that fly at night, Coastal Barrens Buckmoths fly during the day. On Long Island, they fly on sunny days in October. The moths emerge in the morning, with males emerging earlier than females. Mating usually takes place in the early afternoon, and females oviposit in the late afternoon. Females lay eggs in clustered rings, usually around twigs of scrub oak (Quercus ilicifolia), or sometimes other species of shrubby oaks. Females lay 1-3 egg ring clusters, with each cluster containing 50-250 eggs (Tuskes et al. 1996). The eggs overwinter and are coated with a waxy substance to prevent them from desiccating. In addition, the larvae inside are protected from the cold by a kind of natural antifreeze (Cryan 1985). The eggs hatch in the spring, and early-instar larvae feed together in groups in June and July. The small black larvae have many spines that inflict a painful sting when touched, which provides them protection from many predators but does not protect them from some parasites. By July, late-instar larvae scatter and become more solitary. At this stage, they may be found on plants other than oak. In late July or early August, larvae go a few cm below the soil surface, or between the soil surface and the leaf litter, where they transform into pupae and lie dormant until emerging as adult moths in the fall (Cryan 1985; Tuskes et al. 1996; Nelson 2007).

Diet [-]
The larva of the Coastal Barrens Buckmoth is virtually restricted to scrub oak (Quercus ilicifolia) as its primary foodplant. A single report of oviposition on wild black cherry (Prunus serotina) is known. Like other subspecies of Hemileuca maia, larvae will readily eat most other oaks, willows, aspens, and P. serotina. In nature, older larvae do disperse and use willows, P. serotina, and other oaks occasionally if they encounter them. Young larvae eat new spring leaves, and older larvae eat mature leaves. Adult moths do not feed (NatureServe 2010).
Coastal Barrens Buckmoth Images
click to enlarge
The Best Time to See
On Long Island, New York, Coastal Barrens Buckmoth larvae can be seen from May until July, and adults can be seen during their flight period in October. In addition, overwintering eggs are visible on vegetation from late fall until early spring.
J F M A M J J A S O N D
Reproducing Larvae present and active Eggs present outside adult Pupae or prepupae present
The time of year you would expect to find Coastal Barrens Buckmoth reproducing (red shading), larvae present and active (blue shading), eggs present outside adult (green shading) and pupae or prepupae present (orange shading) in New York.
Similar Species
  • Bogbean Buckmoth (Hemileuca sp 1)
    H. maia ssp. 5 is distinguished by the yellow pattern on late-instar larvae, and by its geographic range.
  • Inland Barrens Buckmoth (Hemileuca maia maia)
    H. maia ssp. 5 is distinguished by the yellow pattern on late-instar larvae, and by its geographic range.