Arla tenuicornis
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Arthropoda
Class: Insecta
Order: Lepidoptera
Division: Ditrysia
Superfamily: Gelechioidea
Family: Gelechiidae
Stainton, 1854



Gelechiadae (lapsus)
(but see text)

Gelechiidae is a family of moths commonly referred to as twirler moths or gelechiid moths. They are the namesake family of the huge and little-studied superfamily Gelechioidea, and the Gelechiidae's relationships with and delimitation against their relatives have been subject to considerable dispute. These are generally very small moths with narrow, fringed wings. The larvae of most species feed internally on various parts of their host plants, sometimes causing galls. Douglas-fir (Pseudotsuga) is a host plant common to many species of the family, particularly of the genus Chionodes which is consequently more diverse in North America than usual for Gelechioidea.[1]

By the late 20th century, over 500 genera with altogether more than 4,500 species were placed here, with about 650 known from North America alone. While these figures are certainly outdated due to the many of reevaluations of Gelechioidea and new descriptions of twirler moths, they still serve to give an impression of the enormous biodiversity contained in this important family.

Being abundant, fecund plant-eaters, many species are agricultural pests, including:

  • Anacampsis sarcitella – Pack Moth
  • Anarsia lineatella – Peach Twig Borer
  • Aproaerema modicella – Groundnut Leafminer
  • Keiferia lycopersicella – Tomato Pinworm
  • Pectinophora gossypiella – Pink Bollworm
  • Phthorimaea operculella – Potato Tuber Moth, Tobacco Splitworm
  • Sitotroga cerealella – Angoumois Grain Moth
  • Tecia solanivora (Povolny, 1973) – Guatemalan Potato Moth, Central American Potato Tuber Moth
  • Tuta absoluta – Tomato Leafminer, South American Tomato Moth

It is the voracious habits of their larvae that make twirler moths suitable for biological control of invasive plants. The Spotted Knapweed Seedhead Moth (Metzneria paucipunctella) for example is used to control Spotted Knapweed (Centaurea maculosa) in North America. But even more subtle plant-host interactions have been discovered in these moths. The Guatemalan Potato Moth (Tecia solanivora) may become a harmful pest. But if it is not entirely eradicated from a potato field, but allowed to infest some plants (up to around 20% in one study[2]), the overall harvest will increase, and include an increased amount of extremely large tubers.

Taxonomy and systematics

Compared to the other massively diverse Gelechioidea families – Coleophoridae (case-bearers) and Oecophoridae (concealer moths) – the systematics of the Gelechiidae are far less contentious. The "Deoclonidae", sometimes treated as a full gelechioid family, seem to be nothing other than a specialized offshoot from within the Gelechiidae, and are here included in the present family; some authors differ, however, and ally at least some of these genera with the Autostichinae and/or Symmocidae. On the other hand, the Schistonoeidae (scavenger moths) are preliminarily considered a distinct family here.[3][4][5][6][7]

Of the subfamilies traditionally accepted for the Gelechiidae, only three are maintained here pending further information; at least one other, the Physoptilinae, may also be valid. But numerous genera of twirler moths – including most of the former "Deoclonidae" and for the time being also the proposed Physoptilinae – are of undetermined affiliation at present. The subfamilies, along with some notable genera, are:[5][6]

Subfamily Dichomeridinae (tentatively including Chelariinae, which might belong in Gelechiinae or Pexicopiinae)

Subfamily Gelechiinae (including Anacampsinae, Anomologinae, Apatetrinae)

Subfamily Pexicopiinae

Genera incertae sedis (including Brachmiinae, Physoptilinae)


  1. ^ Donald J. Borror, Charles A. Triplehorn & Norman F. Johnson (1989). An Introduction to the Study of Insects (6th ed.). Fort Worth, Texas: Saunders College. p. 800. ISBN 0030253977. 
  2. ^ "Mottenspucke verbessert Ernte [Moth spit improves yield]" (in German). Eigenarten der Natur (N-TV). June 3, 2010. 
  3. ^ R. W. Hodges (1999). "The Gelechioidea". In N. P. Kristensen. IV – Arthropoda: Insecta. Part 35: Lepidoptera, Moths and Butterflies 1. Handbuch der Zoologie. Berlin & New York: Walter de Gruyter. pp. 131–158. ISBN 3-110-15704-7. 
  4. ^ Christopher O'Toole, ed (2002). Firefly Encyclopedia of Insects and Spiders. ISBN 1-55297-612-2. 
  5. ^ a b Australian Biological Resources Study (October 9, 2008). "Gelechiidae". Australian Faunal Directory. Retrieved April 30, 2010. 
  6. ^ a b "Gelechiidae". Fauna Europaea. December 22, 2009. Retrieved April 30, 2010. 
  7. ^ "Gelechiidae". Tree of Life Web Project. May 1, 2008. Retrieved April 30, 2010. 

External links