MY INTRODUCTION to the Underwings occurred when I was a boy of twelve. An enthusiasm for collecting moths led me to the local library, where a helpful librarian suggested that I borrow W. J. Holland's Moth Book. I hastened home with my prize, and immediately began to turn the pages, hurrying from one color plate to the next. I savored the elegant hawkmoths, the giant silk moths, the brilliant tiger moths; then, sooner than I wished, I turned to the dreary drab noctuids. But, no! Suddenly, after what was surely a million grayish and brownish nondescripts, carne plate after plate of beautiful Catocala -- magnificent moths, many of great size, and with the most colorful and boldly patterned hindwings. Questions immediately rushed to my mind. Why were these moths so large? Why did they have such spectacular hindwings? And why were there so many kinds? My wonder and curiosity had been permanently aroused.
Many years have intervened, and though I have acquired a proper respect for the grayish and brownish hordes, the Catocala have always been my favorites. The wonder that excited my boyhood survived my academic training, and upon completion of the Ph.D. in 1963 (a degree, incidentally, which established my credentials as an ornithologist), I turned to these moths as research subjects. After ten years of intensive study, I am convinced that the North American Catocala moths pose some of the most interesting and challenging problems to be found in evolutionary biology. The striking design of somber forewings and boldly patterned and colorful hindwings has been extraordinarily successful, when measured in terms of the incredible diversity of these moths. There are few, if any, comparable assemblages of closely similar species anywhere in the world. Questions regarding the origin and maintenance of such diversity immediately arise, and this book attempts to shed as much light on these questions as current knowledge permits.
The book emphasizes the biology of the Catocala moths, and draws heavily on my own researches, which have been primarily behavioral and ecological. My field experience has been confined to New England and the species of that region are dealt with in most detail, but coverage is extended to include some consideration, and illustrations, of most of the species occurring in eastern North America.
This work is in no sense a monographic or taxonomic treatise, though every effort is made to represent accurately the current status of the species and their varieties. I will generally follow the established arrangement of the species as found in the most recent checklist of North American moths (McDunnough, 1938), and will adopt the convention of placing the names of all in-frasubspecific variations (forms and aberrations) in parentheses, as opposed to the italics used for species and subspecies names. I am well aware that the naming of forms and aberrations is controversial (see e.g., Masters, 1972; Sevastopulo, 1974), and that such names have no standing in the International Code of Zoological Nomenclature. However, I believe that having names for the distinct polymorphic forms of a species is a great convenience, enabling workers to refer to these forms with single words (e.g., innubens, form "scintillans") rather than lengthy descriptive passages (e.g., "the form of innubens with a very dark contrasting area between the am and pm lines of the forewing"). Accordingly, I have suggested three new names in this book for melanic forms which have heretofore been nameless. I hope that the convenience of having these names, particularly since melanics are of considerable current interest, will outweigh the disadvantage of adding to the already cumbersome Catocala nomenclature.
This book has a scientific emphasis, but it is also intended
to capture some of the beauty and romance that are invariably associated
with these moths. I have tried to limit the use of technical terms, but
have included a glossary which may prove useful on some occasions. Hopefully,
many readers will find material of interest in these pages, and perhaps
some will be encouraged to carry out studies of their own. Science will
be well served if such studies eventually render the contents of this book