Geometer moth

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Geometer moth
Temporal range: Priabonian to Recent 35–0 Ma
Chiasmia species from Ennominae
Scientific classification Edit this classification
Domain: Eukaryota
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Arthropoda
Class: Insecta
Order: Lepidoptera
Superfamily: Geometroidea
Family: Geometridae
Leach, 1815

The geometer moths are moths belonging to the family Geometridae of the insect order Lepidoptera, the moths and butterflies. Their scientific name derives from the Ancient Greek geo γεω (derivative form of γῆ or γαῖα "the earth"), and metron μέτρον "measure" in reference to the way their larvae, or inchworms, appear to measure the earth as they move along in a looping fashion.[1] Geometridae is a very large family, containing around 23,000 described species;[2][3] over 1400 species from six subfamilies are indigenous to North America alone.[1] A well-known member is the peppered moth, Biston betularia, which has been the subject of numerous studies in population genetics. Several other geometer moths are notorious pests.


The name "Geometridae" ultimately derives from Latin geometra from Greek γεωμέτρης ("geometer", "earth-measurer"). This refers to the means of locomotion of the larvae or caterpillars, which lack the full complement of prolegs seen in other caterpillars, with only two or three pairs at the posterior end instead of the usual five pairs. Equipped with appendages at both ends of the body, a caterpillar clasps with its front legs and draws up the hind end, then clasps with the hind end (prolegs) and reaches out for a new front attachment, creating the impression that it measures its journey. The caterpillars are accordingly called "loopers", "spanworms", or "inchworms" after their characteristic looping gait. The cabbage looper and soybean looper are not inchworms but caterpillars of a different family. In many species of geometer moths, the inchworms are about 25 mm (1.0 in) long. They tend to be green, grey, or brownish and hide from predators by fading into the background or resembling twigs. When disturbed, many inchworms stand erect and motionless on their prolegs, further increasing this resemblance. Some have humps or filaments, or cover themselves in plant material. They are gregarious and are generally smooth. Some eat lichen, flowers, or pollen, while some, such as the Hawaiian species of the genus Eupithecia, are carnivorous. Certain destructive inchworm species are referred to as "cankerworms".[citation needed]

In 2019, the first geometrid caterpillar in Baltic amber was discovered by German scientists. Described under Eogeometer vadens, it measured about 5 mm (0.20 in) and was estimated to be 44 million years old, dating back to the Eocene epoch. It was described as the earliest evidence for the subfamily of Ennominae, particularly the tribe Boarmiini.[4]


Many geometrids have slender abdomens and broad wings which are usually held flat with the hindwings visible. As such, they appear rather butterfly-like, but in most respects they are typical moths. The majority fly at night. They possess a frenulum to link the wings, and the antennae of the males are often feathered. They tend to blend into the background, often with intricate, wavy patterns on their wings. In some species, females have reduced wings (e.g. winter moth and fall cankerworm).[1] Most are of moderate size, about 3 cm (1.2 in) in wingspan, but a range of sizes occur, from 10–50 mm (0.39–1.97 in), and a few (e.g., Dysphania species) reach an even larger size. They have distinctive paired tympanal organs at the base of the abdomen (these are absent in flightless females).[citation needed]


The placement of the example species follows a 1990 systematic treatment; it may be outdated. Subfamilies are tentatively sorted in a phylogenetic sequence, from the most basal to the most advanced. Traditionally, the Archiearinae were held to be the most ancient of the geometer moth lineages, as their caterpillars have well-developed prolegs. However, it now seems that the Larentiinae are actually older, as indicated by their numerous plesiomorphies and DNA sequence data. They are either an extremely basal lineage of the Geometridae – together with the Sterrhinae – or might even be considered a separate family of Geometroidea. As regards the Archiearinae, some species that were traditionally placed therein actually seem to belong to other subfamilies; altogether it seems that in a few cases, the prolegs which were originally lost in the ancestral geometer moths re-evolved as an atavism.[5][6]

Larentiinae – about 5,800 species, includes the pug moths, mostly temperate, might be a distinct family.[5][6]

Sterrhinae – about 2,800 species, mostly tropical, might belong to same family as the Larentiinae.[5]

Desmobathrinae – pantropical

Geometrinae – emerald moths, about 2,300 named species, most tropical

Archiearinae – twelve[7] species; holarctic, southern Andes and Tasmania, though the latter some seem to belong to the Ennominae,[6] larvae have all the prolegs but most are reduced.

  • Infant, Archiearis infans (Möschler, 1862)
  • Scarce infant, Leucobrephos brephoides (Walker, 1857)

Oenochrominae – in some treatments used as a "wastebin taxon" for genera that are difficult to place in other groups

Alsophilinae – a few genera, defoliators of trees, might belong in the Ennominae, tribe Boarmiini[6]

Ennominae – about 9,700 species, including some defoliating pests, global distribution

  • Eogeometer vadens[4]

Geometridae genera incertae sedis include:

Hydriomena? protrita holotype forewing

Fossil Geometridae taxa include:


  1. ^ a b c Robin McLeod, John; Balaban, Jane; Moisset, Beatriz; Entz, Chuck (April 27, 2009). "Family Geometridae - Geometrid Moths". BugGuide. Retrieved April 2, 2011.
  2. ^ "Lepidoptera Barcode of Life". Archived from the original on 2017-07-12. Retrieved 2017-07-11.
  3. ^ Scoble, M. J. (1999), Geometrid Moths of the World: A Catalogue (Lepidoptera, Geometridae) (in German), vol. 1 and 2, Stenstrup: CSIRO Publishing and Apollo Books, p. 1016
  4. ^ a b c Fischer, Thilo C.; Michalski, Artur; Hausmann, Axel (2019). "Geometrid caterpillar in Eocene Baltic amber (Lepidoptera, Geometridae)". Scientific Reports. 9 (1): Article number 17201. Bibcode:2019NatSR...917201F. doi:10.1038/s41598-019-53734-w. PMC 6868187. PMID 31748672.
  5. ^ a b c Õunap, Erki; Viidalepp, Jaan; Saarma, Urmas (2008). "Systematic position of Lythriini revised: transferred from Larentiinae to Sterrhinae (Lepidoptera, Geometridae)". Zoologica Scripta. 37 (4): 405–413. doi:10.1111/j.1463-6409.2008.00327.x. S2CID 85800529.
  6. ^ a b c d Young, Catherine J. (2008). "Characterisation of the Australian Nacophorini using adult morphology, and phylogeny of the Geometridae based on morphological characters" (PDF). Zootaxa. 1736: 1–141. doi:10.11646/zootaxa.1736.1.1.
  7. ^ "Hemitheini Bruand 1846 - Plazi TreatmentBank". Retrieved 2024-02-04.
  8. ^ Cockerell, T. D. A. (1922). "A fossil Moth from Florissant, Colorado". American Museum Novitates (34): 1–2.

Further reading[edit]

  • Hausmann, A. (2001). The Geometrid Moths of Europe. Vol. 1: Introduction. Archiearinae, Orthostixinae, Desmobathrinae, Alsophilinae, Geometrinae -- v. 4. Larentiinae II (Perizomini and Eupitheciini). Apollo Books.
  • Minet, J.; Scoble, M. J. (1999). "17: The Drepanoid / Geometroid Assemblage". In Kristensen, N. P. (ed.). Handbuch der Zoologie. Eine Naturgeschichte der Stämme des Tierreiches / Handbook of Zoology. A Natural History of the phyla of the Animal Kingdom. Vol. 4: Arthropoda: Insecta. Part 35: Lepidoptera, Moths and Butterflies. Vol. 1: Evolution, Systematics, and Biogeography. Berlin & New York: Walter de Gruyter.
  • Scoble, M. J., ed. (1999), Geometrid Moths of the World: A Catalogue, CSIRO Publishing, ISBN 0-643-06304-8

External links[edit]