New York Natural Heritage Program
A Hand-maid Moth
Datana ranaeceps (Guérin-Méneville, 1844)

General Description [-]
This is a heavily frosted grayish or dark reddish Datana with yellow-striped larvae on heaths (NatureServe 2010).

Identifying Characteristics [-]
This is a medium-sized, stout-bodied, heavily frosted grayish or dark reddish moth with a wingspan of approximately 42 mm. In New Jersey, Datana ranaeceps is the only species that exhibits the reddish form. However, since the reddish form is also common in Datana major (Grote and Robinson) southward, specimens from south of New Jersey must be verified by genitalia (Forbes 1948). Species in the genus Datana are much easier to identify from specimens or photos of last instar larvae than from adults. Forbes (1948) provides an excellent key to larvae, and Wagner et al. (1997) and Wagner (2005) are also useful for identifying larvae. Larvae must be in the last instar to be identified, and the last instar larvae can be recognized by the combination of normal continuous yellow stripes, red head, red posterior end, and presence on a larval foodplant. Most larvae of the species are brighter than the one illustrated by Wagner (2005), which is probably close to pupation. The species is similar enough to other species of Datana that some records in the literature may not be trustworthy. Specimens are sometimes misidentified even in modern collections (NatureServe 2010).

Characters Most Useful for Identification [-]
Larval characteristics most useful for identification are the combination of continuous yellow stripes, red head, red posterior end, and presence on a larval foodplant (NatureServe 2010).

Best Life Stage for Proper Identification [-]
The last instar larval stage is the best life stage for identification (NatureServe 2010).

Behavior [-]
Adults are nocturnal. In the North, the species often exhibits a partial second generation each year, and in the South, there are two broods each year (Wagner 2005). In New Jersey, adults occur from mid-May into August, mainly from one drawn-out emergence. Some early-emerging adults in May lay eggs that hatch into larvae, which pupate and eclose in early August without overwintering. Eggs hatch in ten days or less, and the larval stage lasts only about a month. Larvae are usually noticed in New Jersey from late June to mid-August. Pupae occur underground, and some overwinter twice (NatureServe 2010).

Diet [-]
The normal larval foodplant in New Jersey and Long Island, New York, is the shrub stagger-bush (Lyonia mariana). Some larvae will also feed on fetter-bush (Leucothoe racemosa), blueberries, and probably maleberry (Lyonia ligustrina) when displaced, but probably only as last instars. Most will not accept the Leucothoe. Records of "Andromeda" refer to Lyonia. In New Jersey the larvae are found mostly on sprouts following fires or mowing, but they can be found on more mature Lyonia in very sterile, open, sunny habitats. The foodplants for populations in the mountains are unknown. The adults do not feed.
A Hand-maid Moth Images
click to enlarge
The Best Time to See
The best time to see the species is during its larval stage. In New York State, larvae have been observed in July, with peak numbers observed in mid-July.
Present Reproducing Larvae present and active
The time of year you would expect to find A Hand-maid Moth present (blue shading), reproducing (green shading) and larvae present and active (orange shading) in New York.