Eriogenes cossoides, copyright CSIRO.

Belongs within: Obtectomera.
Contains: Symmocidae, Coleophora, Agapalsini, Blastobasinae, Borkhausenia, Gymnobathra, Oecophorinae, Xyloryctinae, Stathmopodinae, Depressaria, Gelechiidae, Cosmopteriginae, Ethmiinae.

The Gelechioidea are a hyperdiverse group of moths, generally characterised by the presence of a densely scaled proboscis. Approximately 16,500 species are known within the clade, with a correspondingly high diversity of lifestyles, with larvae being phytophagous, detritivorous or even parasitic (Grimaldi & Engel 2005).

Over half the species of gelechioids are included in the family Oecophoridae, larvae of which mostly tunnel in stems or other plant parts, or inhabit retreats constructed by joining leaves or among detritus. The Elachistidae, grass-miner moths, are mostly leaf or stem miners in Poales. The ecologically diverse Cosmopterigidae are commonly characterised by asymmetrical genitalia in the males. The Coleophoridae are very small moths with two longitudinal patches on spines on each abdominal tergite that are not obscured by scales. Scythrididae are very small moths bearing lanceolate wings with series of long setae on the underside of the fore wing and upper side of the hind wing. Agonoxena is a genus found on palms, characterised by a strongly oblique frons and flattened labial palps, that holds the antennae in a porrect position (Nielsen & Common 1991).

The butterflies get all the glory
Published 27 July 2009
Caterpillar of a parsnip moth Depressaria daucella (Depressariidae or Oecophoridae). Depressaria moths are notable for feeding on toxic umbelliferous host plants that other animals (for instance, certain Greek philosophers) find distinctly unpalatable. Photo by Percherón.

The Lepidoptera, butterflies and moths*, are one of the most familiar groups of insects, and have the enviable advantage of tending to receive a more favourable response from the general public than other insects do. Some Lepidoptera, particularly the butterflies, are almost treated as honorary vertebrates—they receive a degree of attention and enthusiasm usually reserved for those animals of a more endoskeletal disposition. You might be forgiven, then, for assuming that the Lepidoptera are overall a well-known and studied order—but you’d still be wrong.

*Though in our lab, they tend to get referred to simply as “leps”.

Traditionally, Lepidoptera have been divided into two, reasonably self-explanatory, groups—the microlepidoptera and macrolepidoptera. Though originally divided simply by size, the terms have been redefined in recent years on a phylogenetic basis—the name Macrolepidoptera has been attached to a particular clade, while leps outside this clade are dubbed microlepidoptera. The intuitive meanings of the names still work reasonably well—the majority of large Lepidoptera are indeed Macrolepidoptera (though the often very sizeable Hepialidae are, phylogenetically speaking, microlepidoptera). And, not surprisingly, it is the Macrolepidoptera that get most of the attention, while the microleps (which, just to make the point, probably constitute the greater part of lepidopteran diversity) tend to get shoved to one side.

Esperia sulphurella, Oecophoridae. Larvae of this species feed on rotting wood. Photo by Keith Edkins.

The Gelechioidea are a large microlepidopteran superfamily. They are spectacularly diverse—Hodges (1998) referred to there being well over 16,000 described species. As if this wasn’t impressive enough, perhaps only about a quarter of the world’s gelechioids have been described. Most of the Gelechioidea are extremely small—one of the largest, Cryptophasa setiotricha, is 25 mm long, while one of the smallest is Siskiwitia falcata, a mere two millimetres in length (Hodges 1998). Like many other tiny moths, the wings often have a long fringe of hairs. The larvae of gelechioids are usually retiring herbivores, often concealing themselves in a web of silk or binding leaves to form a hide. Some are detritivores or fungivores, while a few have become carnivores of other insects such as scales (Kaila 2004). The monophyly of the Gelechioidea is not certain—the morphological analysis of Kaila (2004) supported gelechioid monophyly, but three of the four supporting characters were homoplasious with other Lepidoptera, while the only character unique to Gelechioidea (antennae meeting mesally in the pupa) had been lost in a number of gelechioid subgroups.

Oecophora bractella (Oecophoridae), an atypically colourful gelechioid (yes, I know that means that all the photos are of oecophorids, but you see, most gelechioids can basically be described as “kind of brown”). Photo by Sean McCann.

Homoplasy was similarly rife within the superfamily itself. Kaila (2004) resolved two major clades, a “gelechiid lineage” including (among others) the Gelechiidae, Cosmopterigidae and Coleophoridae, and an “oecophorid lineage” with the Xyloryctidae, Oecophoridae and Elachistidae, but both were supported solely by homoplasious characters. Bucheli & Wenzel (2005) used molecular data as well as morphology, but included less taxa in their analysis than Kaila (2004) – they continued to support the oecophorid lineage, but resolved the gelechiid lineage as paraphyletic. Probably as a result of such rampant homoplasy, no two revisions have agreed on the best way to divide the gelechioids into families—the major families listed are fairly safe, but various minor “family-type groups” move in and out of them at will.

Relatively few gelechioids are of economic significance to humans. A few are plant pests (such as Pectinophora gossypiella, the cotton bollworm) or can feed on stored grain or textiles, but for the most part they are just as retiring as they look. There’s still an awful lot of them, though.

Systematics of Gelechioidea

Characters (from Nielsen & Common 1991): Ocelli present or absent; chaetosemata absent; scape often with pecten; proboscis with dense, imbricated scales towards base, rarely reduced; maxillary palps small, mostly 4-segmented, folded over base of proboscis, rarely reduced; labial palps usually recurved, apical segment often exceeding vertex, usually tapering, acute; epiphysis usually present; spurs 0-2-4; fore wing with M rarely present in discal cell, chorda vestigial or absent, retinaculum in female often subcubital; hind wing with venation sometimes reduced, CuA rarely with basal pecten of hairs, CuP often absent, female frenulum usually with three bristles; S2 of tineid type; abdomen often with prominent dorsal spines. Larva with 3 L setae on prothorax, crochets in a circle, penellipse, or rarely in two transverse rows, abdominal setae L1 and L2 approximated; concealed feeders, case-bearing, tunnelling in stems or fruits, gall-forming, leaf-ming, joining foliage, or feeding beneath silken shelter. Pupa usually with labial palps and fore femora concealed, without dorsal abdominal spines, usually segments 5-7 movable in male, 5-6 in female; usually in larval shelter, not protruded from shelter or cocoon at ecdysis.

| | |--DepressariaGE05
| | `--Psilocorsis reflexellaKP19
| `--+--GelechiidaeKP19
| `--+--Autostichinae [Autostichidae]KP19
| | |--AutostichaKP19
| | `--ProcometisNC91
| | |--P. bisculcataNC91
| | `--P. hylonomaP27c
| `--CosmopterigidaeO94
| | i. s.: Glaphyristis marmareaP27c
| | Trachydora droserodesP27c
| | EuclemensiaGE05
| | Morphotica mirificaZS10
| | Thectophila Meyrick 1927M27
| | `--*T. acmotypa Meyrick 1927M27
| | Hedroxena Meyrick 1924Z21
| |--AntequerinaeNC91
| |--WalshiinaeC70
| |--CosmopteriginaeNC91
| `--ChrysopeleiinaeNC91
| |--Chalotis semnostolaNC91
| `--Ithome lassulaNC91
| i. s.: CosmiotesNC91
| |--C. aphantaC70
| |--C. archaeonomaM83
| `--C. synethesNC91
| Elachista Treitschke 1833 non Duby 1830 (ICBN)BR17
| |--E. archaeonomaP27c
| |--E. exaulaP27c
| |--E. megerleellaF92
| |--E. ombrodocaP27c
| |--E. quadrellaR89
| |--E. subquadrella Ragonot 1889R89
| `--E. thallophoraP27c
| Ptilochares Meyrick 1887M87
| `--*P. trissodesma Meyrick 1887M87
| Castorura Meyrick 1887M87
| `--*C. chrysias Meyrick 1887M87
| Elachistites inclususRJ93
| AnybiaP92
| MicroperittiaP92
| PalaeoelachistaP92
| PraemendesiaP92
`--Stenomatinae [Stenomatidae]E03
|--Antaeotricha schlaegeriKP19
|--Agriophara Rosenstock 1885E03
| |--*A. cinerosaE03
| |--A. confertellaP27c
| `--A. platysciaNC91
`--Eriogenes Meyrick 1925E03
|--*E. mesogypsa Meyrick 1925E03
|--E. cossoides (Butler 1882) [=Phanaca cossoides; incl. E. meyricki Duckworth 1973]E03
`--E. nielseni Edwards 2003E03

Gelechioidea incertae sedis:
Physoptila [Physoptilidae]C74
MomphaWRM02 [MomphidaeNC91, Momphinae]
`--M. cephalonthiellaWRM02
Agonoxena [Agonoxenidae]NC91
|--A. argaulaNC91
`--A. phoeniciaNC91
|--Eupselia satrapellaNC91
|--H. chlaenota Meyrick 1887M87
`--H. tortriciformis (see below for synonymy)M86
Batrachedra [Batrachedridae]NC91
|--B. agauraP27c
|--B. arenosellaNC91
|--B. microtomaNC91
|--B. psithyraL27
`--B. stegodyphobiusR13
Lecithoceridae [Timyridae]NC91
|--Lecithocera micromelaNC91
|--C. perigraptaP27c
|--C. prasinopisNC91
`--C. sidoniaZS10
|--Scythropites balticella Rebel 1936P92
| |--E. dioctisNC91
| `--E. flavicinctaP27c
|--S. epistrotaP27c
|--S. rhabduchaNC91
`--S. scopolellaKP19
Coleophoridae [Eupistidae]GE05
| i. s.: ColeophoraYS10
| MulticoloriaYS10
| |--M. eucoleosYS10
| `--M. singreniYS10
| CorythangelaNC91
|--Systrophoeca Falkovitsh 1972F05
Oecophoridae [Cryptolechiadae]GE05
| i. s.: TingenaDGH93
| BorkhauseniaP27a
| PetalanthesM27
| GymnobathraP27b
| Eulechria barypteraP27c
| Nymphostola galactinaP27c
| Ochlogenes advectellaP27c
| Machaeritis aegrellaP27c
| Oxythecta acceptellaP27c
| Coeranica isabellaP27c
| Saropla philocalaP27c
| Protomacha chalcaspisP27c
| Chezala conjunctellaP27c
| Lophopepla igniferellaP27c
| Zonopetala clerotaP27c
| Callithauma pyritesP27c
| Eutorna pabulicolaP27c
| Thudaca obliquellaP27c
| Endorsis lactellaP27c
| Schiffermuelleria orthopanesP27c
| Leptocroca meselectraP27c
| Euchersadaula lathriopaP27c
| Euthictis chloratmaP27c
| Thamnosara sublitellaP27c
| TelanepsiaAY04
| ThyrocopaO94
| Opisina arnosella [incl. Nephantis serinopa]YS10
| Hoplomorpha abalienellaZS10
| EuchaetisZS10
| Habroscopa iriodesZS10
| Corocosma Meyrick 1927M27
| `--*C. memorabilis Meyrick 1927M27
| AgonopterixP04
| |--A. alstromerianaP04
| |--A. arenellaI92
| |--A. heraclianaRD77
| |--A. muricolorella (Busck 1902) [=Depressaria muricolorella]C52
| |--A. oregonensis Clarke 1941C52
| `--A. rosaciliella (Busck 1904) [=Depressaria rosaciliella; incl. A. r. echinopanacis]C52
| PiloprepesZS10
| |--P. antidoxaZS10
| `--P. lophopteraP27c
| HierodorisH04
| |--H. atychioidesH04
| `--H. frigidaP27c
| ProteodesM27
| |--P. carnifexP27c
| `--P. melagrapha Meyrick 1927M27
| LathicrossaM27
| |--L. leucocentraP27c
| `--L. prophetica Meyrick 1927M27
| MachimiaP27c
| |--M. carneaP27c
| `--M. zatrephesP27c
| CryptolechiaP27c
| |--C. liochroaP27c
| |--C. radiosellaP27c
| `--C. tentoriferellaRD77
| CoesyraP27c
| |--C. aporaP27c
| |--C. dichroellaP27c
| `--C. paulinellaP27c
| AtomotrichaP27c
| |--A. chloronotaP27c
| |--A. exsomnisP27c
| `--A. ommatiasL27
| TrachypeplaM27
| |--T. anastrellaL27
| |--T. aspidephoraL27
| |--T. conspicuellaL27
| |--T. contritellaP27c
| |--T. euryleucotaT27
| |--T. indolescens Meyrick 1927M27
| `--T. photinellaM27
| IzathaP27c
| |--I. attactellaL27
| |--I. convulsellaL27
| |--I. epiphanesP27c
| |--I. miraL27
| |--I. peroneanellaL27
| |--I. picarellaL27
| `--I. planetellaL27
| Peritornenta circulatellaNC91
| PedoisNC91
| Tonica effractellaNC91
| Enchocrates glaucopisNC91
| Placocosma resumptella [=Oecophora resumptella; incl. P. hephaestea Meyr. 1883]M86
| Antidica pilipes (Butl. 1882) [=Latometus pilipes; incl. A. eriophora Meyr. 1883]M86
| Gonionota pyrobola Meyrick 1887M87
| PeritorneutaC70
| Cormotypa fascialisC70
| Sphaerelictis hepialellaC70
| Borkhausenites bachofeniRJ93
| DepressaritesP92
| EpiborkhausenitesP92
| GlesseumeyickiaP92
| MicrosymmocitesP92
| NeoborkhausenitesP92
| PalaeodepressariaP92
| ParaborkhausenitesP92
| SymmocitesP92
| TubuliferolaP92

Hypertropha tortriciformis [=Heliodes tortriciformis; incl. Orosana desumptana, Anthoecia divitiosa, Hypertropha thesaurella Meyr. 1880]M86

*Type species of generic name indicated


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