University of Minnesota

Wanted: Unexpected Cycnia Observations

Posted on Monday, March 23, 2015 at 10:00 am in Monarch Citizen Science, Monarch Lab Research Updates

Dr. Kristen Baum

The unexpected cycnia moth (Cycnia inopinatus) is a milkweed dependent moth species. We are interested in documenting observations from throughout its geographic range (Great Plains to the East Coast), so we can learn more about its habitat requirements and where it is located. Volunteer-collected data will be used to model potential habitat throughout the entirety of its range. 

The unexpected cycnia emerges as an adult in the spring and produces two generations a year. Eggs are laid singly or in clusters on the stems and leaves of milkweed plants. Different stages can be found from spring through early fall. The unexpected cycnia is most easily identified in its larval stage as a bright orange fuzzy caterpillar, but some color variation can occur – their hair tufts can also be darker (light gray to dark brown). The number of hairs in a tuft/clump increases with each instar stage. First instars are very small (about 2mm), but late instars are about the size of a medium to large 4th instar monarch (3/4 – 1 inch long).

Why are we interested? There are still many unknowns about the unexpected cycnia, especially in regards to its habitat; however, it is considered rare and fairly local in occurrence. It is thought to only have the ability to disperse throughout large milkweed patches or if corridors of milkweed are present. It is also considered a species of conservation concern in a few of the states in which it is found.

What Can You Do?

How can you help? When checking milkweeds for monarchs, let us know if you see any unexpected cycnia caterpillars. We are looking for presence observations of the unexpected cycnia wherever it is found.

Volunteer-collected data will also complement research in north-central Oklahoma where the unexpected cycnia is fairly common. This research will involve studying how land use and parasitism (by tachinid flies and ichneumonid wasps) influence unexpected cycnia populations.

For more information or to share an observation, please contact Miranda Kersten via email at or Dr. Kristen Baum via phone at 405-744-7424. When submitting an observation, please include the location of your sighting. Pictures are also welcome and greatly appreciated.

  • © 2018 Regents of the University of Minnesota. All rights reserved.
  • The University of Minnesota is an equal opportunity educator and employer. Privacy