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Comprehensive Description

Moths in the genus Calyptra are sometimes known as vampire moths, a colorful name referring to the ability of at least some species to pierce mammalian flesh and feed on blood. Calyptra species have wingspans ranging from 35 to 72 mm. They are found in southern Europe, eastern Africa, sub-Himalayan southern Asia, Manchuria, and broadly throughout southeast Asia; a single species, Calyptra canadensis, is found in eastern North America (Covell 1984; Wagner 2005; Zaspel et al. 2007). The modified proboscis of these moths has strongly sclerotized erectile barbed hooks (at the distal end of the galeae) used for piercing both thick and hard-skinned fruits such as peaches, plums, and citrus fruits--and sometimes the skin of mammals (Büttiker et al. 1996 and references therein). It is likely that blood-feeding moths engage in this behavior facultatively, depending on regional availability of mammalian versus plant hosts. (Zaspel et al. 2007 and references therein)

Eight of the 17 to 19 described species have been reported to pierce mammalian skin under natural conditions: C. eustrigata (Hampson), C. minuticornis minuticornis (Guenée), C. orthograpta, (Butler), C. bicolor (Moore), C. fasciata (Moore), C. ophideroides (Guenée), C. parva Bänziger and C. pseudobicolor Bänziger (5 of these 8 have been known to pierce human skin) and two additional species (C. fletcheri and C. thalictri) have shown this behavior in experiments or under semi-natural conditions. (Zaspel et al. 2007 and references therein)

Zaspel et al. (2007) documented the first example of blood-feeding by Calyptra in a temperate region, by C. thalictri in Far Eastern Russia. Individuals from one site exhibited blood-feeding behavior in experimental trials while individuals from a second site did not. Such variation has been observed for other Calyptra species as well. (Zaspel et al. 2007 and references therein)

In subtropical and tropical Asia, Calyptra moths are considered facultative or opportunistic blood-feeders, typically feeding on ungulates (hoofed mammals) such as tapirs, rhinos, and cattle, and occasionally on elephants and humans. Interestingly, female Calyptra adults have not been documented feeding on blood. (Bänziger 1975; Zaspel et al. 2007 and references therein)

Images of Calyptra thalictri larvae, cocoons, and adults taken by Eduard Berlov can be seen here.

Author(s): Shapiro, Leo
Rights holder(s): Shapiro, Leo


Büttiker, W., Krenn H. W., & Putterill J. F. (1996).  The proboscis of eye-frequenting and piercing Lepidoptera (Insecta). Zoomorphology. 116, 77-83.
Bänziger, H. (1968).  Preliminary observations on a skin-piercing blood-sucking moth (Calyptra eustrigata (Hmps.) (Lep., Noctuidae)) in Malaya. Bulletin of Entomological Research. 58, 159-163.
Bänziger, H. (1971).  Bloodsucking moths of Malaya. Fauna. 1, 3-16.
Bänziger, H. (1975).  Skin-piercing blood-sucking moths I. Ecological and ethological studies on Calpe eustrigata (Lepid., Noctuidae). Acta Tropica. 32, 125-144.
Bänziger, H. (1983).  A taxonomic revision of the fruit-piercing and blood-sucking moth genus Calyptra Ochsenheimer [= Calpe Treitschke] (Lepidoptera: Noctuidae). Entomologica Scandinavica. 14, 467-491.
Covell, J.. C. V. (1984).  A Field Guide to the Moths of Eastern North America. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.
Wagner, D. L. (2005).  Caterpillars of Eastern North America. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press.
Zaspel, J. M., Kononenko V. S., & Goldstein P. Z. (2007).  Another Blood Feeder? Experimental Feeding of a Fruit-Piercing Moth Species on Human Blood in the Primorye Territory of Far Eastern Russia (Lepidoptera: Noctuidae: Calpinae). Journal of Insect Behavior. 20, 437-451.