Plants and Animals

Papaipema sciata Culvers root borer

species photo
species photo

Key Characteristics

The Culver's root borer has a wingspan of near1.6 inches (4.0 cm). Adult forewings with basal (inner portion of wing nearest the body) two-thirds chocolate brown, marginal third bluish gray, typically with a series of yellowish lunules (crescent-shaped markings) surrounded with white; forewings also with a group of white spots. Hind wings are a solid light chocolate brown.

Status and Rank

US Status: No Status/Not Listed
State Status: T - Threatened (legally protected)
Global Rank: G2G3 - Rank is uncertain, ranging from imperiled to vulnerable
State Rank: S3 - Vulnerable


CountyNumber of OccurrencesYear Last Observed
Allegan 2 1996
Berrien 1 1988
Cass 2 1983
Clinton 1 1973
Jackson 2 1996
Monroe 2 2012
Newaygo 2 1997
St. Clair 4 2017
Washtenaw 1 2023
Wayne 1 2022

Information is summarized from MNFI's database of rare species and community occurrences. Data may not reflect true distribution since much of the state has not been thoroughly surveyed.


The Culver's root borer occurs with its larval host plant, Culver's root (Veronicastrum virginicum). In Michigan, Culver's-root has been recorded from a variety of plant communities crossing gradients from wet to dry including lakeplain prairies, prairie fens, and sand prairies. Many Michigan sites represent only small isolated parcels of what was once widespread habitat. At known sites, associated prairie plants typically include big bluestem (Andropogon gerardii), Indian grass (Sorghastrum nutans), common mountain mint (Pycanthemum virginianum), tall coreopsis (Coreopsis tripteris), Ohio goldenrod (Solidago ohioensis), marsh blazing star (Liatris spicata), and switch grass (Panicum virgatum).

Specific Habitat Needs

Host plant needed in: Dry sand prairieMesic sand prairiePrairie fen.

Natural Community Types

For each species, lists of natural communities were derived from review of the nearly 6,500 element occurrences in the MNFI database, in addition to herbarium label data for some taxa. In most cases, at least one specimen record exists for each listed natural community. For certain taxa, especially poorly collected or extirpated species of prairie and savanna habitats, natural community lists were derived from inferences from collection sites and habitat preferences in immediately adjacent states (particularly Indiana and Illinois). Natural communities are not listed for those species documented only from altered or ruderal habitats in Michigan, especially for taxa that occur in a variety of habitats outside of the state.

Natural communities are not listed in order of frequency of occurrence, but are rather derived from the full set of natural communities, organized by Ecological Group. In many cases, the general habitat descriptions should provide greater clarity and direction to the surveyor. In future versions of the Rare Species Explorer, we hope to incorporate natural community fidelity ranks for each taxon.

Management Recommendations

Almost all major workers on the genus have commented on the fire sensitivity of Papaipema eggs, while Decker highly recommends use of fire to control the pest species P. nebris. Land managers should always assume high mortality of Papaipema eggs in fall, winter, or spring burn units. To preserve the rarer Papaipema populations, protect an adequate amount of the foodplant by dividing their habitat into smaller burn units. These smaller units can be burned in rotation with 3-5 years between burns of a single unit, and adjacent units should not be burned in consecutive years. No Papaipema site should ever be entirely burned in a single year. Foodplants spread over a large area or in several discrete patches reduce the risk from predators and parasitoids as compared to a comparable number of plants in a single dense patch. Most, if not all, of these parasitoids are native species and do not need to be controlled. All known sites of sciata on managed lands should be monitored periodically.

Active Period

Flight from third week of July to second week of August

Survey Methods

The best way to survey for this species is by blacklighting, a technique where a sheet is stretched across two trees or poles and an ultraviolet light is used to attract moths to the sheet. Moths can be collected directly from the sheet. Insects come to light usually in largest numbers on still, dark, cloudy nights when both temperature and humidity are high. You also can search for the larvae of many species of Papaipema by searching for signs of feeding activity in late July or early August. This includes inspecting culver's-root (Veronicastrum virginicum) plants that are wilted or otherwise stunted, for a small hole near the base of the plant and a pile of frass (caterpillar feces) near this opening. Oftentimes you can see the pile of frass at the base of the plant and then locate the hole in the stem. Reports of adults or larvae of this species should be documented with a voucher specimen and verification by a species expert.


Survey Period: From third week of September to fourth week of October

Time of Day: Night

Search for feeding activity

Survey Period: From third week of July to second week of August

Time of Day: Daytime


Survey References

  • Hessel, S.A. 1954. A guide to collecting the plant boring larvae of the genus Papaipema (Noctuidae). Lepidopteran News 8:57-63.
  • Martin, J.E.H. 1977. The Insects and Arachnids of Canada (Part 1): Collecting, preparing, and preserving insects, mites, and spiders. Publication 1643. Biosystematics Research Institute, Ottawa.

Technical References

  • Cuthrell, D.L. 1999. Special Animal Abstract for Papaipema sciata (Culver's root borer). Michigan Natural Features Inventory, Lansing, MI 3pp.
  • Nielsen, M. 1995. Detecting Noctuid borers. Entomological Notes. The Michigan Entomological Society 24: 2pp.
  • Rings, R.W., E.H. Metzler, F.J. Arnold, and D.H. Harris. 1992. The Owlet Moths of Ohio Order Lepidoptera Family Noctuidae. Ohio Biological Survey Bulletin New Series 9(2):219pp.

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