smeared dagger

(Acronicta oblinita)

smeared dagger
  Hodges #


Conservation Status
  IUCN Red List

not listed


N5 - Secure


not listed


Smeared dagger is a medium-sized, widespread but uncommon dagger moth. It occurs in the United States east of the Great Plains and in adjacent Canadian provinces, with a separate population in Alberta, and a handful of records on the West Coast. It is uncommon throughout its range. In Minnesota it is more common in the north, less common in the south. It is found in open woodlands, woodland edges, meadows, bogs, and wetlands.

Adults are ¾ to 1 (20 to 28 mm) long and have a wingspan of 17 16 to 2 (36 to 54 mm).

The forewings are long, narrow, pale to medium gray, dull, and heavily marked with obscure, dark gray streaks. They are longer and narrower, and have less sharply defined markings, than other North American dagger moths. There is a circular spot (orbicular spot) in the upper median area and a kidney-shaped (reniform spot) spot at the end of the discal cell. The orbicular spot is a thin dark circle. It is usually incomplete, open at the top and bottom. The reniform spot also has an incomplete dark outline and is usually slightly darker than the background color. There are indistinct, strongly jagged, antemedial (AM) and postmedial (PM) lines. The PM line is accented with a row of dark triangles. The terminal line consists of a series of conspicuous black spots between the veins. The hindwings are white with a terminal line of black spots between the veins.

The caterpillar is known as the smartweed caterpillar. However, it is a generalist, feeding on a wide range of forbs, shrubs, and trees. It also feeds on agricultural crops, where it can cause defoliation and is considered a pest. The late stage (instar) caterpillar is up to 19 16 (4 cm) long and is highly variable in color. It is usually mostly black. The breathing pores (spiracles) are white and there is a large, bright yellow, inverted V-shaped blotch between the spiracles. There are numerous tufts of mostly equal-length, bristle-like hairs (setae) on raised warts on each thoracic and abdominal segment. On some individuals the warts are reddish. The hairs are irritating (urticating), and will cause a stinging sensation if the caterpillar is handled. There are sometimes white spots in the subdorsal area, and they sometimes coalesce into a stripe. Mature caterpillars are found from May through November.




Total length: ¾ to 1 (20 to 28 mm)

Wingspan: 17 16 to 2 (36 to 54 mm)


Similar Species


Open woodlands, woodland edges, meadows, bogs, wetlands




One generation per year in Minnesota: May through July




Adults are active at night and will come to lights.


Life Cycle


Pupa overwinter


Larva Hosts


Many forbs, shrubs, trees, and grasses, including clover, corn, smartweed, strawberry, fireweed, cattail, alder, apple, birch, aspen, elm, oak, willow, and pine.


Adult Food




Distribution Map



7, 21, 27, 29, 30, 71, 75.







Lepidoptera (butterflies and moths)  


Noctuoidea (owlet moths and allies)  


Noctuidae (cutworm moths and allies)  







Acronicta arioch

Oligia arioch

Oligia oblinita


Common Names


smartweed caterpillar (larva)

smeared dagger

smeared dagger moth










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.


Reniform spot

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



A stiff, hair-like process on the outer surface of an organism. In Lepidoptera: A usually rigid bristle- or hair-like outgrowth used to sense touch. In mosses: The stalk supporting a spore-bearing capsule and supplying it with nutrients. Plural: setae. Adjective: setose.






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    smeared dagger   smeared dagger  
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Other Videos
  Smeared Dagger Moth Caterpillar (Noctuidae: Acronicta oblinita?) on Leaf
Carl Barrentine

Aug 9, 2010

Photographed at the Agassiz NWR, Minnesota (02 August 2010). Thank you to John and Jane Balaban ( for identifying this specimen!




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Created: 10/23/2019

Last Updated:

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