variegated cutworm moth

(Peridroma saucia)

variegated cutworm moth
Photo by Alfredo Colon
  Hodges #


Conservation Status
  IUCN Red List

not listed


N5 - Secure

SNR - Unranked


not listed


Variegated cutworm moth is an exotic, medium-sized, migratory moth. It occurs in Europe, Asia, North Africa, North America, and South America. Its origin is not certain, but it may be Europe, where it was first recorded in 1790. It is thought to be invasive in the United States. It cannot survive Minnesota’s cold winters, but it recolonizes the state each spring. Adults are active from June to October in agricultural areas and in disturbed habitats, but rarely in natural areas. The larvae feed on the foliage of more than 125 species of plants.

Variegated cutworm moth is a major economic pest of greenhouses and agricultural crops, including vegetables, fruit trees, alfalfa, and grasses. The larvae cut the stem of a plant at ground level, thus killing the plant. An infestation can decimate an entire garden or field in just days.

Adults are 1 (25 mm) in length and have a 1¾ to 2¼ (45 to 56 mm) wingspan. Moth size is sometimes given in terms of forewing length, which in this case is to 1 (15 to 25 mm).

The head is dark brown. The antennae on the female are slender and thread-like. On the male the antennae are slightly swollen and bead-like, with a tuft of short hairs on each side of each segment. The eyes are hairless. The finger-like sensory mouthparts (labial palps) have three segments. The second segment has a projecting tuft of long scales at the end on the underside. The third segment is about two times as long as wide, and it has a similar but shorter tuft at the end.

The thorax is dark brown with a raised crest in the middle (middorsal). The crest is formed from hair-like scales and slightly spatula-shaped scales with pale tips, giving the crest a frosted appearance.

The forewings are long and moderately narrow. The color is variable, from pale yellowish brown to dark reddish brown. They are usually heavily speckled with black scales, giving the wings a burnt orange or yellow appearance. The subterminal area is usually darker. The basal, antemedial (AM), and postmedial (PM) lines are black, jagged, and double. They are usually faint and sometimes obscured by the black speckling, but they are always represented by a double black spot on the wing’s leading edge (costal margin). The median line is represented by a single black spot on the costal margin. The circular spot (orbicular spot) in the upper median area near the AM line is large, oval, and usually pale.

The hindwings are pearly gray with dark shading on the margins and dark veins. The fringe is dark at the base, white on the outer half.

On the front legs, the fourth leg segment (tibia) has a complete row of 5 to 7 spine-like hairs (setae) on the inner margin and one seta at the tip on the outer margin.

The caterpillar is stout, smooth, fleshy, and less than 1¾ (4.5 cm) in length. The color is variable, ranging from brown to gray and light to dark. The white to orange stripe on the upper middle (middorsal) becomes small spots at the end of abdominal segments 1 through 4 (A1 to A4). There is a pale yellowish or orangish rump patch on A8 preceded by an irregular black patch. On each side of the body, there is a pale stripe below the breathing pores (spiracles). It often has shades of orange and is often poorly differentiated. The top of the head has two black stripes separated by a black spot. Taken together, it appears like the letter M.




Total length: 1 (25 mm)

Wingspan: 1¾ to 2¼ (45 to 56 mm)


Similar Species


Agricultural and disturbed areas




June to October.




The larvae feed at night.


Life Cycle




Larva Food


Plant leaves


Adult Food


Flower nectar


Distribution Map



4, 21, 24, 29, 30, 71, 75, 82, 83.







Lepidoptera (butterflies and moths)  


Noctuoidea (owlet moths and allies)  


Noctuidae (cutworm moths and allies)  


Noctuinae (cutworms and dart moths)  


  Subtribe Agrotina  





Agrotis ambrosioides

Agrotis angulifera

Agrotis brunnea

Agrotis cyrnaea

Agrotis decolor

Agrotis fuscobrunnea

Agrotis impacta

Agrotis inermis

Agrotis intecta

Agrotis juncta

Agrotis nigrocosta

Agrotis ochreacosta

Agrotis ochronota

Agrotis ortonii

Agrotis philippsi

Agrotis rufa

Agrotis saucia

Agrotis tenebricosa

Euxoa brunnea

Lycophotia ochronota

Lycophotia saucia

Noctua aequa

Noctua majuscula

Noctua margaritosa

Noctua orophila

Noctua polygona

Noctua saucia

Peridroma ambrosioides

Peridroma chilenaria

Spaelotis infuscata

Spaelotis stictica


Common Names


pearly underwing

variegated cutworm

variegated cutworm moth











Antemedial (AM) line

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


Costal margin

The leading edge of the forewing of insects.


Orbicular spot

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



Short for pedipalp. A segmented, finger-like process of an arthropod; one is attached to each maxilla and two are attached to the labium. They function as sense organs in spiders and insects, and as weapons in scorpions. Plural: palpi or palps.



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.



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



The fourth segment of an insect leg, after the femur and before the tarsus (foot). The fifth segment of a spider leg or palp.






Visitor Photos

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Alfredo Colon

    variegated cutworm moth      





Pearly Underwing, Peridroma saucia
Briantspuddle Wildlife & History
  Pearly Underwing, Peridroma saucia  

One 10 Oct 2015, on an excellent night with 2 Clifton Nonpareil +; Flounced Rustic.




Visitor Videos

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Other Videos
  The Varigated Cutworm or Pearly Underwing Moth
Carl Barrentine

Aug 8, 2012

Photographed at Fisher, Minnesota (07 August 2012)

  generalist cutworms feed on giant knotweed
Stacy E

Aug 9, 2020

Peridroma saucia larvae (a widespread generalist cutworm) feed on a sprig of knotweed. Video is taken over 5 minutes (sped up x30).

  Moth - Variegated Cutworm 1 HQ HD

Jul 5, 2021

Profile of a Variegated Cutworm Moth.
Filmed in my garden.
July 1, 2021.




Visitor Sightings

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  Alfredo Colon

Location: Woodbury, Minnesota

variegated cutworm moth  






Created: 10/25/2023

Last Updated:

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