greater black-letter dart

(Xestia dolosa)

greater black-letter dart
Photo by Bill Reynolds
  Hodges #


Conservation Status
  IUCN Red List

not listed


NNR - Unranked


not listed


Greater black-letter dart is a common, medium-sized moth. Adults are ¾ to 13 16 (20 mm to 21 mm) in length, with a wingspan of 19 16.

The forewing is long and moderately narrow. On the male it is reddish-brown, on the female it is bluish-gray. The base of the wing on both sexes is purplish-gray. The line separating the basal area and median area (antemedial line) is scalloped. In the upper median area, a large, triangular, straw-colored spot (orbicular spot) widens toward the leading edge of the wing. In the lower median area, a large, kidney-shaped spot (reniform spot) is burnt orange to purplish-gray with a thin black outline. There are also conspicuous dark spots, including a black basal dash, a median bar, and a subapical patch. The terminal area of the wing is noticeably darker on males, much less so on females.

The hindwing on the male is whitish-gray at the base, becoming darker gray as it approaches the margin, with slightly darker veins. The hindwing of the female is similar but darker.

The head and thorax are same color as the forewing. The thin line on the thorax just behind the head (collar) is pale brownish-yellow. The antennae are slender and thread-like.

The caterpillars are smooth and about 1½ in length. They are usually brown but are sometimes green or gray. Three stripes on the upper (dorsal) side of the abdomen (the middorsal and subdorsal stripes) are thin and inconspicuous. On gray and brown caterpillars there are usually dark slanting spots on each abdominal segment in the subdorsal area. A pale horizontal stripe (subspiracular stripe) on each side of the abdomen dips below the breathing opening (spiracle) on the eighth abdominal segment (A8) and continues onto the leg-like appendage (proleg) on A10. The spiracles are white to tan with a thin black outline. The ground color of the abdomen is darker above the subspiracular stripe, paler below. Each proleg has a number of minute hooklets (crochets) that allow the caterpillar to hold onto vegetation. The proleg on A3 has about 25 crochets. A dark bar on each side of the head runs over the top of the head (vertex) and continues to the to the side of the triangle (frons).




Total length: ¾ to 13 16

Wingspan: 19 16


Similar Species

  Setaceous Hebrew character (Xestia c-nigrum) is smaller, to ¾ (15 mm to 19 mm). The antemedial line is straight. The caterpillar is virtually inseparable and is best reared to adulthood for identification.  

Forests and woodlands




Two generations, May to September




The caterpillars burrow into the ground where they spend the day. They come out at night to feed on vegetation within a meter of the ground.


Life Cycle


They overwinter as late stage (instar) larvae.


Larva Hosts


Grasses, forbs, and low-growing woody plants; and apple, maple, currant, and pear. Possibly also agricultural crops, including barley, clover, corn, and tobacco.


Adult Food


Flower nectar


Distribution Map



21, 24, 27, 29, 30, 71, 75.







Lepidoptera (butterflies and moths)  


Noctuoidea (owlet moths and allies)  


Noctuidae (cutworm moths and allies)  


Noctuinae (cutworms and dart moths)  


  Subtribe Noctuina  



In 1980, setaceous Hebrew character (Xestia c-nigrum) was separated from greater black-letter dart (Xestia dolosa). Before that, they were considered one species. In 1998, J. Donald Lafontaine suggested that the two species are ecologically separated, with X. dolosa inhabiting moderately moist (mesic) woodlands, and X. c-nigrum inhabiting disturbed and grassy landscapes, agricultural crops, fields, and gardens. According to Lafontaine, only X. c-nigrum is an agricultural pest.






Common Names


greater black-letter dart

greater black-lettered dart

spotted cutworm

woodland spotted cutworm








Antemedial (AM) line

A thin line separating the basal area and the median area of the forewing of Lepidoptera.



In grasses: The area on the back of a grass leaf at the junction of the sheath and the blade. On moths: the upperside of the prothorax.



The upper part of an insect’s face, roughly corresponding to the forehead.



The developmental stage of arthropods between each molt; in insects, the developmental stage of the larvae or nymph.


Orbicular spot

A circular spot or outline in the upper median area near the antemedial line on the forewing of many moths.



A fleshy structure on the abdomen of some insect larvae that functions as a leg, but lacks the five segments of a true insect leg.


Reniform spot

A kidney-shaped spot or outline in the lower median area near the PM line on the forewing of many moths.



A small opening on the surface of an insect through which the insect breathes.






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Bill Reynolds

    greater black-letter dart   greater black-letter dart  








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Other Videos
  Greater Black-letter Dart Moth (Noctuidae: Xestia dolosa) Lateral View
Carl Barrentine

Published on Sep 23, 2011

Photographed at the Turtle River State Park, North Dakota (23 September 2011).

  Greater Black-letter Dart Moth (Noctuidae: Xestia dolosa) Dorsal View
Carl Barrentine

Published on Aug 16, 2011

Photographed at the Turtle River State Park, North Dakota (16 August 2011).

  Xestia c-nigrum/dolosa 09-11-16

Published on Sep 12, 2016




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  Bill Reynolds

Location: Pennington Co MN

greater black-letter dart  






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