Leaffolder Moths

Desmia spp.

leaffolder_moth_2009.jpg

Photo of a leaffolder moth visiting a flower
There are nine species of leaffolder moths in North America, and even specialists must labor to separate them.
Donna Brunet
Other Common Name
Leaf-Folders
Family

Crambidae (crambid snout moths)

Description

Leaffolder moths (genus Desmia) are black with bold white markings. The body is slender and protrudes beyond the hindwings. Sometimes the moth curls its pointy abdomen tip upward.

Two common species are the grape leaffolder (Desmia funeralis) and grape leafroller (D. maculalis) — but to verify a species identification requires examination of the insect’s minute reproductive organs or mouthparts, or even its DNA.

The caterpillars are transparent green. They construct shelters by folding leaves of the food plant. They become extremely active when disturbed.

Size

Wingspan: 1–1½ inches.

Leaf-Folder moth underside, Chesterfield, MO

Leaf-Folder moth underside, Chesterfield, MO
Leaf-Folder moth underside, Chesterfield, MO
Habitat and conservation

Found in forests and forest edges, as well as open areas near any of its food plants, including vineyards, parks, and suburban yards.

Foods

The caterpillars of some species feed on the leaves of grapes and Virginia creeper; they are also reported to feed on redbud and evening primrose. The larval foods of some species are unknown.

image of Leaf-Folder Moths Distribution Map
Distribution in Missouri

Statewide.

Status

Breeding resident.

Life cycle

Adults fly from April until late September, with two or more broods. Adults fly during the day but may also be attracted to lights at night. These moths overwinter as pupae, hidden within folded leaves.

Human connections

As with most moths, it’s the caterpillars that are economically influential: As pests of vineyards, leaffolder moths have over the years caused considerable damage to Missouri’s grape crop, affecting our state’s $1.6 billion wine industry.

Ecosystem connections

The caterpillars are herbivores that graze on vegetation. The adults may serve a role in pollination. All stages provide food for predators — although the caterpillars find protection within their leafy shelters.

The close resemblance to forester moths, which also fly by day but are in an unrelated family, suggests one or both may be mimics of each other or of, perhaps, of some kind of wasp.