Date of Completion


Embargo Period



entomology, Acronictinae, Acronicta, evolution, phylogenetics, diet breadth, morphology, behavior

Major Advisor

David Wagner

Associate Advisor

Elizabeth Jockusch

Associate Advisor

Chris Simon

Associate Advisor

Michael Singer

Field of Study

Ecology and Evolutionary Biology


Doctor of Philosophy

Open Access

Open Access


Moths and caterpillars of the noctuid genus Acronicta Oschenheimer, 1816, widely known as dagger moths, have captured the imagination of taxonomists for centuries. Morphologically enigmatic adults and highly variable larvae prompted A. R. Grote to proclaim, "There would seem to be no genus which offers a more interesting field to the biologist for exploration," (1895). Without known synapomorphies for Acronicta, or the subfamily Acronictinae, their circumscriptions have changed over time. This dissertation delves into the taxonomic history of these taxa, setting the stage for a worldwide phylogenetic analysis of Acronictinae. The diversity of larval forms is considered in a tri-trophic framework, quantifying bottom up (host plant) and top down (predator) effects through measures of diet breadth, morphology, and behavior, all in a phylogenetic context. Adult courtship structures, present in some acronictine species, are scored across the family Noctuidae, to aid in the study of the evolution of complex morphological traits.