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Acronicta albarufa


  Canadian Biodiversity Information Facility (CBIF)
Meyer, Rachelle. 2008. Acronicta albarufa. In: Fire Effects Information System, [Online]. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station, Fire Sciences Laboratory (Producer). Available: [].


barrens dagger moth

Acronicta albarufa Grote is the scientific name of the barrens dagger moth, a member of the Noctuidae family [1].




No special status

Information on state- and province-level protection status of barrens dagger moth in the United States and Canada is available at NatureServe, although recent changes in status may not be included.


SPECIES: Acronicta albarufa
Barrens dagger moth has a fragmented distribution that includes southern Ontario and Manitoba, New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, North Carolina, Virginia, Georgia, Oklahoma, Missouri, Arkansas, and Colorado [1,9,10,11,14]. It may be extirpated from Ohio, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, mainland New York, and New Mexico [10,14,15,16]. It has been suggested that populations in the southwestern United States may be a separate species [10,14]. No maps of barrens dagger moth distribution were available as of 2008.

Barrens dagger moths generally occur in oak (Quercus spp.) or pine (Pinus spp.) barren communities. They are associated with pitch pine-bear oak (P. rigida-Q. ilicifolia) forest and oak scrub communities in New England and southeastern New York [12,14,16]. On Martha's Vineyard, they may be associated with frost-bottom communities (Goldstein 1994, cited in [11]). They have been observed in black oak-post oak (Q. velutina-Q. stellata) woodland in New Jersey and occur in an area of the Atlantic City International Airport that has been mowed every 1 to 2 years since the 1940s [14,16]. Barrens dagger moths occupy oak savannahs and oak-hickory (Carya spp.) forests in the western and southern portions of their range [14]. Habitats currently or historically occupied by barrens dagger moths in Colorado and New Mexico have not been documented.


SPECIES: Acronicta albarufa
The literature cited in this review is almost entirely from reviews [11,14,16] and fact sheets [9,10]. The reviews include summaries of the response of rare moths and butterflies to management [11,16] and a NatureServe report on barrens dagger moth [14]. Much of the following information is stated without a clear source. It is likely based on surveys, personal communications, and other unpublished data. As of 2008, there was no published information containing primary data on barrens dagger moth life history characteristics, cover requirements, or response to fire.

Barrens dagger moths are nocturnal [10,14] and are typically just over an inch (3.0-3.5 cm) long [1]. The period in which adults emerge from cocoons extends over 2 months [10,11,14]. Adult barrens dagger moths are typically active from June to August [9,10] but have been documented from late May to September in New Jersey and Missouri [14]. Dagger moth species that occupy pine barrens can be found 1 to 2 miles (2-3 km) from suitable habitat, suggesting considerable dispersal potential [14]. Adults generally produce one brood [10,14]. However, in New Jersey and Missouri, eggs laid in mid-June may result in a partial second brood [14]. Eggs are laid in July or August [11] and typically take about 6 days to hatch [11,14]. Larvae are present for 4 to 5 weeks in late June to September or October [9,10,11,14]. If second-brood larvae occur, it may take 8 to 10 weeks for these individuals to begin pupation [14]. Pupae are present in fall, winter, and spring [9,10,11,14]. Barrens dagger moth may pupate in a flimsy cocoon in soil [11], although the precise location(s) of pupae is uncertain [14]. Pupae do not seem to overwinter more than once [14].

Barrens dagger moth habitat is often described as sandy, xeric, and open oak-dominated communities [9,10,11,14,16]. See Plant Communities for information on cover types occupied. Rare moths that occur in pitch pine-bear oak communities, including barrens dagger moth, were associated with early successional habitat patches in southeastern Massachusetts [3]. Barrens dagger moths have not been documented in most potential habitat, despite being relatively easy to detect (see Sampling) [14]. More detailed studies on barrens dagger moth habitat requirements are needed [10,11,14].

Landscape-scale characteristics may have greater influence on barren dagger moth habitat quality than patch- or plot-level characteristics [3]. Patches of remnant habitat occupied by barrens dagger moths are typically larger than 2,000 acres (1,000 ha) [10,14]. In models based on surveys of rare moths in a pitch pine-bear oak community in southeastern Massachusetts, barrens dagger moth was positively associated with landscapes with a high percentage of open-canopy oak scrub [3] and negatively associated (P=0.03) with mixed hardwood-conifer forest without pitch pine at the 1,120-acre (450 ha) scale. At a smaller scale (17 acres (7 ha)), barrens dagger moth was negatively associated (P=0.02) with the dispersion and interspersion of cover types [2]. Connectivity of habitat did not appear important in this study area, but connectivity was generally low [3].

As of 2008, no information was available on the cover requirements of any barrens dagger moth life stage.

Bear oak, and possibly other oaks, are the host plants for barrens dagger moth larvae [3,9,11,14,16]. According to a fact sheet published by the New York Natural Heritage Program, larvae feed on bur oak (Q. macrocarpa), post oak, chestnut oak (Q. prinus), and probably black oak, and adults likely eat honeydew from sucking insects and tree sap [10]. According to the NatureServe review, larvae have been observed on post oak and dwarf chinkapin oak (Q. prinoides). Barrens dagger moths were successfully raised on black oak in captivity, but they rejected blackjack oak (Q. marilandica). Bur oak is the only oak within the Manitoba range of barrens dagger moth [14].

No information was available on this topic as of 2008.

Population trends: Barrens dagger moths are most abundant in the Ozarks [14] and are comparatively rare in the eastern portion of their range [3,12,14]. Populations likely experienced some decline, although the extent is uncertain due to a lack of historical information. The decline in barrens dagger moth populations has apparently slowed or ceased since the 1990s [14]. See the Schweitzer's [14] review for more detailed information on the conservation status of barrens dagger moth.

Threats: Threats to the persistence of barrens dagger moths include habitat loss, fire suppression, extensive fires, high levels of white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) browsing, introduced species, insecticides, off-road vehicles, and light pollution [9,10,14,16]. Introduced species that may negatively impact barrens dagger moth are gypsy moths (Lymantria dispar) and parasitoids such as compsilura (Compsilura concinnata) [9,10]. Spraying for mosquitoes (Culicidae) and gypsy moths could negatively impact barrens dagger moth. Since it is not as persistent as other insecticides, use of the insecticide Bacillus thuringiensis var. kurstaki in spring is recommended if severe defoliation by gypsy moths appears imminent. White-tailed deer damage may have contributed to the extirpation of the barrens dagger moth population at Pinery Park, Ontario [14]. For information on the potential impacts of fire on barrens dagger moth, see Fire Effects and Management.

Sampling: Barrens dagger moths are attracted to blacklights and in some areas will come to bait [14].

Habitat management: The following information is based on the general habitat requirements of barrens dagger moths and responses of vegetation and pine barren moths to habitat management. These comparisons are speculative, and responses of barrens dagger moth to various habitat management techniques were uncertain based on data available as of 2008 [10,11,14,16].

Protecting barrens dagger moth habitat is a high priority. Currently occupied habitat is important to the long-term persistence of barrens dagger moth populations [11]. The preservation of large patches of pitch pine-oak scrub vegetation is also recommended, since barrens dagger moths are associated with large habitat patches that are disturbance dependent [16] (see Fire Regime).

A habitat mosaic that varies in space and time and consists of patches ranging from bare sand to oak scrub thickets and closed-canopy pitch pine-oak forests will likely help support various life stages and species of moths [11,16]. Modeling of rare pine barren moth habitat requirements based on survey data from southeastern Massachusetts led to the recommendation that a range of successional stages be maintained and that management treatments focus on areas of about 69 to 279 acres (28-113 ha) [3].

Mowing, prescribed burning (see Fire Effects and Management), thinning, and potentially grazing can help maintain vegetation used by barrens dagger moths and assist in maintaining a habitat mosaic. Barrens dagger moths occur in an area of the Atlantic City International Airport in New Jersey that has been mowed every 1 to 2 winters since the 1940s [14,16]. Since it could result in the removal of oak scrub, mowing more than once a year would likely be detrimental [11,16]. Mowing in the summer may have negative initial results [11]. Thinning of pitch pine could benefit barrens dagger moth, since oak scrub cover would likely increase. Thinning of oaks to savanna may also benefit barrens dagger moth due to increases in oak scrub and maintenance of overstory oaks [11]. In the current landscape, cutting of vegetation followed by prescribed burning may be needed to maintain habitat structure and mimic high-severity summer fires [16]. Grazing may benefit barrens dagger moth habitat due to sprouting oak scrub. However, grazing multiple times a year would likely negatively impact barrens dagger moth habitat. In addition, grazing can introduce nonnative species [11], and the impacts of grazing in oak scrub are poorly understood [16]. Plowing and harrowing are not recommended due to slow recovery of vegetation and establishment of nonnative species [16]. No matter the treatment used, untreated refugia are recommended to provide a colonization source for treated areas [11,16].


SPECIES: Acronicta albarufa
Barrens dagger moths may be susceptible to fire-caused mortality in every life stage. The vulnerability of pupae depends partly on whether they occur in the soil and at what depth. Larvae are likely vulnerable due to their slow movement and occurrence on above ground vegetation. The susceptibility of adults to fire-caused mortality would depend on their mobility, which had not been documented in the literature as of 2008. Microsite conditions [13] and fire severity would likely influence the extent of fire-caused mortality of all barrens dagger moth life stages. Given the lack of information on the vulnerability of each life stage, it is not surprising that there are conflicting recommendations regarding when to burn. A fact sheet on barrens dagger moths in New York suggests that prescribed burning not occur during reproductive or larval periods, from 1 June to 1 October [10]. In contrast, review of barrens dagger moth life history and effects of fire on a pitch pine-scrub oak community in southeastern Massachusetts led Williams and others [11] to suggest that naturally occurring summer fires are likely to have less impact than spring or fall fires. They also conclude that fire at any time of year would likely have negative immediate impacts on barrens dagger moth. Extensive, continuous fires would likely result in greater mortality and slower recolonization of burned areas than small or patchy fires. Because they typically produce only one brood a year (see Life History), barrens dagger moths may have limited potential to recolonize burned areas [11]. For a discussion of factors to consider when evaluating the impact of fire on invertebrates, such as motility and phenology, see the review by Lyons and others [8].

INDIRECT FIRE EFFECTS: As of 2008, there was very little information on the indirect effects of fire on barrens dagger moth. See FEIS reviews for information on the effects of fire on larval hosts such as bear oak.

Habitat-related fire effects: Research is needed on the effects of fire frequency, severity, timing, and continuity on barrens dagger moth habitat quality [10,14,16]. At least some communities occupied by barrens dagger moths, including pine barrens and scrub oak thickets, are maintained by fire [10,14,16]. Succession of pine barren-oak scrub to shade-tolerant hardwood species would result in a loss of barrens dagger moth habitat [16]. It is possible that burns with sprouting oaks provide quality barrens dagger moth habitat, but there are no data to support this [11,14]. Prescribed fire could be used in combination with thinning and mowing (See Habitat management) to maintain the mosaic habitat structure recommended for rare moths of the eastern United States [3,16].

FIRE REGIME: The fire-return intervals in barrens dagger moth habitat are affected by several factors, including edaphic conditions and anthropogenic influences [16]. A review suggests that presettlement fires in these communities generally occurred in summer [11]. Typical barrens dagger moth communities experience low-severity fire more frequently than high-severity fire (see the Fire Regime Table below). More detailed information on the fire regimes of these cover types is available in the FEIS reviews of bear oak and pitch pine.


SPECIES: Acronicta albarufa
The following table provides fire regime information that may be relevant to barrens dagger moth habitats. Habitats that may be occupied in the Southwest are not included.

Fire regime information on vegetation communities that may provide habitat for barrens dagger moth. For each community, fire regime characteristics are taken from the LANDFIRE Rapid Assessment Vegetation Models [7]. These vegetation models were developed by local experts using available literature, local data, and/or expert opinion as documented in the PDF file linked from the name of each Potential Natural Vegetation Group listed below. Cells are blank where information is not available in the Rapid Assessment Vegetation Model.
Northern Great Plains Great Lakes Northeast South-central US Southern Appalachians
Northern Great Plains
Vegetation Community (Potential Natural Vegetation Group) Fire severity* Fire regime characteristics
Percent of fires Mean interval
Minimum interval
Maximum interval
Northern Plains Grassland
Oak savanna Replacement 7% 44    
Mixed 17% 18    
Surface or low 76% 4    
Northern Plains Woodland
Oak woodland Replacement 2% 450    
Surface or low 98% 7.5
Great Lakes
Vegetation Community (Potential Natural Vegetation Group) Fire severity* Fire regime characteristics
Percent of fires Mean interval
Minimum interval
Maximum interval
Great Lakes Woodland
Great Lakes pine barrens Replacement 8% 41 10 80
Mixed 9% 36 10 80
Surface or low 83% 4 1 20
Northern oak savanna Replacement 4% 110 50 500
Mixed 9% 50 15 150
Surface or low 87% 5 1 20
Great Lakes Forested
Oak-hickory Replacement 13% 66 1  
Mixed 11% 77 5  
Surface or low 76% 11 2 25
Vegetation Community (Potential Natural Vegetation Group) Fire severity* Fire regime characteristics
Percent of fires Mean interval
Minimum interval
Maximum interval
Northeast Woodland
Eastern woodland mosaic Replacement 2% 200 100 300
Mixed 9% 40 20 60
Surface or low 89% 4 1 7
Rocky outcrop pine (Northeast) Replacement 16% 128    
Mixed 32% 65    
Surface or low 52% 40    
Pine barrens Replacement 10% 78    
Mixed 25% 32    
Surface or low 65% 12    
Oak-pine (eastern dry-xeric) Replacement 4% 185    
Mixed 7% 110    
Surface or low 90% 8    
Northeast Forested
Appalachian oak forest (dry-mesic) Replacement 2% 625 500 >1,000
Mixed 6% 250 200 500
Surface or low 92% 15 7 26
South-central US
Vegetation Community (Potential Natural Vegetation Group) Fire severity* Fire regime characteristics
Percent of fires Mean interval
Minimum interval
Maximum interval
South-central US Grassland
Oak savanna Replacement 3% 100 5 110
Mixed 5% 60 5 250
Surface or low 93% 3 1 4
South-central US Woodland
Interior Highlands dry oak/bluestem woodland and glade Replacement 16% 25 10 100
Mixed 4% 100 10  
Surface or low 80% 5 2 7
Interior Highlands oak-hickory-pine Replacement 3% 150 100 300
Surface or low 97% 4 2 10
Pine bluestem Replacement 4% 100    
Surface or low 96% 4    
South-central US Forested
Interior Highlands dry-mesic forest and woodland Replacement 7% 250 50 300
Mixed 18% 90 20 150
Surface or low 75% 22 5 35
Southern Appalachians
Vegetation Community (Potential Natural Vegetation Group) Fire severity* Fire regime characteristics
Percent of fires Mean interval
Minimum interval
Maximum interval
Southern Appalachians Grassland
Eastern prairie-woodland mosaic Replacement 50% 10    
Mixed 1% 900    
Surface or low 50% 10    
Southern Appalachians Forested
Appalachian oak-hickory-pine Replacement 3% 180 30 500
Mixed 8% 65 15 150
Surface or low 89% 6 3 10
Oak (eastern dry-xeric) Replacement 6% 128 50 100
Mixed 16% 50 20 30
Surface or low 78% 10 1 10
Appalachian Virginia pine Replacement 20% 110 25 125
Mixed 15% 145    
Surface or low 64% 35 10 40
Appalachian oak forest (dry-mesic) Replacement 6% 220    
Mixed 15% 90    
Surface or low 79% 17    
Vegetation Community (Potential Natural Vegetation Group) Fire severity* Fire regime characteristics
Percent of fires Mean interval
Minimum interval
Maximum interval
Southeast Woodland
Longleaf pine-Sandhills prairie Replacement 3% 130 25 500
Surface or low 97% 4 1 10
Southeast Forested
Coastal Plain pine-oak-hickory Replacement 4% 200    
Mixed 7% 100      
Surface or low 89% 8    
*Fire Severities—
Replacement: Any fire that causes greater than 75% top removal of a vegetation-fuel type, resulting in general replacement of existing vegetation; may or may not cause a lethal effect on the plants.
Mixed: Any fire burning more than 5% of an area that does not qualify as a replacement, surface, or low-severity fire; includes mosaic and other fires that are intermediate in effects.
Surface or low: Any fire that causes less than 25% upper layer replacement and/or removal in a vegetation-fuel class but burns 5% or more of the area [4,6].

Barrens dagger moth habitat requirements are not well understood [10,11,14], and more research is needed to determine management activities that could create, improve, or maintain it. Prescribed fires have been recommended to maintain some communities, such as pitch pine-bear oak barrens, that are occupied by barrens dagger moth [10,14,16]. Recommendations for minimizing barrens dagger moth mortality and increasing recolonization of treated areas include limiting burned areas, providing unburned refugia [14,16], and burning in patches so that the entire area occupied by a population is not burned within a 3-year period [10,11]. In addition to likely reductions in mortality, unburned refugia provide a source for recolonization of burned areas. Frequency of fire in barrens dagger moth habitat is variable (see Fire Regime). Fire return-intervals of about 5 years have been suggested based on response of vegetation to experimental fire on Martha's Vineyard [11], and intervals of 20 to 50 years were suggested in the NatureServe review [14] for forests in New Jersey and northward. Monitoring of barrens dagger moths and their habitat can provide much needed information on responses to fire and other habitat management techniques [11].

Preserving large patches of pine barrens communities may make it easier to mimic natural disturbance patterns [5,16] and help conserve the large areas of habitat required by barrens dagger moths (see Preferred Habitat).

Acronicta albarufa: REFERENCES

1. Forbes, William T. M. 1954. Lepidoptera of New York and neighboring states. Noctuidae: Part III. Memoir No. 329. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University, New York State College of Agriculture. 433 p. [70970]
2. Grand, Joanna; Buonaccorsi, John; Cushman, Samuel A.; Griffin, Curtice R.; Neel, Maile C. 2004. A multiscale landscape approach to predicting bird and moth rarity hotspots in a threatened pitch pine--scrub oak community. Conservation Biology. 18(4): 1063-1077. [61269]
3. Grand, Joanna; Mello, Mark J. 2004. A multi-scale analysis of species-environment relationships: rare moths in a pitch pine--scrub oak (Pinus rigida--Quercus ilicifolia) community. Biological Conservation. 119(4): 495-506. [61266]
4. Hann, Wendel; Havlina, Doug; Shlisky, Ayn; [and others]. 2008. Interagency fire regime condition class guidebook. Version 1.3, [Online]. In: Interagency fire regime condition class website. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service; U.S. Department of the Interior; The Nature Conservancy; Systems for Environmental Management (Producer). 119 p. Available: [2008, September 03]. [70966]
5. Jordan, Marilyn J.; Patterson, William A., III; Windisch, Andrew G. 2003. Conceptual ecological models for the Long Island pitch pine barrens: implications for managing rare plant communities. Forest Ecology and Management. 182(1-2): 151-168. [42026]
6. LANDFIRE Rapid Assessment. 2005. Reference condition modeling manual (Version 2.1), [Online]. In: LANDFIRE. Cooperative Agreement 04-CA-11132543-189. Boulder, CO: The Nature Conservancy; U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service; U.S. Department of the Interior (Producers). 72 p. Available: [2007, May 24]. [66741]
7. LANDFIRE Rapid Assessment. 2007. Rapid assessment reference condition models, [Online]. In: LANDFIRE. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station, Fire Sciences Lab; U.S. Geological Survey; The Nature Conservancy (Producers). Available: [2008, April 18] [66533]
8. Lyon, L. Jack; Telfer, Edmund S.; Schreiner, David Scott. 2000. Direct effects of fire and animal responses. In: Smith, Jane Kapler, ed. Wildland fire in ecosystems: Effects of fire on fauna. Gen. Tech. Rep. RMRS-GTR-42-vol. 1. Ogden, UT: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station: 17-23. [44435]
9. Nelson, M. W. 2007. Species fact sheet: Barrens dagger moth (Acronicta albarufa), [Online]. In: Natural Heritage Endangered Species Program. Westborough, MA: Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife (Producer). Available: [2008, September 8]. [71013]
10. New York Natural Heritage Program. 2008. New York Natural Heritage Program Conservation Guide: Barrens dagger moth (Acronicta albarufa), [Online]. In: Animal guides. New York Natural Heritage Program (Producer). Available: [2008, September 8]. [71014]
11. Patterson, William A., III; Clarke, Gretel L.; Haggerty, Sarah A.; Sievert, Paul R.; Kelty, Matthew. 2005. Wildland fuel management options for the central plains of Martha's Vineyard: impacts on fuel loads, fire behavior, and rare plant and insect species, [Online]. Final Report RFR# DEM705. In: Managing fuels in Northeastern Barrens. In: Publications--Fuel treatments. Amherst, MA: University of Massachusetts, Department of Natural Resources Conservation (Producer). Available: [2008, September 8]. [70314]
12. Rivers, William H. 1997. Coming full circle: restoring sandplain grassland communities in the State Forest on Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts. In: Vickery, Peter D.; Dunwiddie, Peter W., eds. Grasslands of northeastern North America: Ecology and conservation of native and agricultural landscapes. Lincoln, MA: Massachusetts Audubon Society: 79-84. [70151]
13. Robbins, Louise E.; Myers, Ronald L. 1992. Seasonal effects of prescribed burning in Florida: a review. Misc. Publ. No. 8. Tallahassee, FL: Tall Timbers Research, Inc. 96 p. [21094]
14. Schweitzer, Dale F. 2007. Comprehensive report species - Acronicta albarufa, Barrens dagger moth, [Online]. In: NatureServe Explorer: an online encyclopedia of life [web application]. Version 7.0. Arlington, VA: NatureServe (Producer). Available: tabular_report.wmt&paging=home&save=all&sourceTemplate=reviewMiddle.wmt [2008, September 17]. [71015]
15. Shuey, John A.; Metzler, Eric H.; Iftner, David C.; Calhoun, John V.; Peacock, John W.; Watkins, Reed A.; Hooper, Jeffrey D.; Babcock, William F. 1987. Status and habitats of potentially endangered Lepidoptera in Ohio. Journal of the Lepidopterists' Society. 41(1): 1-12. [70313]
16. Wagner, David L.; Nelson, Michael W.; Schweitzer, Dale F. 2003. Shrubland Lepidoptera of southern New England and southeastern New York: ecology, conservation, and management. Forest Ecology and Management. 185(1-2): 95-112. [61257]

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