Agonoxena sp., oil palm, PNG Minimize

March 2013. The larvae of this moth are removing the epidermis of oil palm leaflets and causing an appreciable amount of damage to oil palm in Milne Bay Province of Papua New Guinea. The larvae are protected by a silken cocoon. I posted an earlier poor picture - I hope this is better. Any ideas of Family or a specialist in this group?

A member wrote: The long and recurved labial palps at the front of the head indicate this moth is in the (large) superfamily Gelechioidea. Looking in Robinson, Tuck and Shaffer (1994: A Field Guide to the Smaller Moths of S.E.Asia, Malaysian Nature Society / The Natural History Museum) and ruling out families with which I am familiar (Gelechiidae, Oecophoridae, Lecithoceridae, Cosmopterigidae, Stathmopodidae, Xyloryctidae) based upon resting posture and visible morphology, I'm left with looking for known oil palm feeders and come up with a blank. However, the one species of Agonoxenidae mentioned (Agonoxena miniana Meyrick) is described as "larvae . . . have been found on coconut and sago . . . on the underside of the leaf, stripping away the epidermis". At the time of publication, there were 4 known species in the genus.  Maybe this is a place to start further searching....

Please note that in the most recent revision of Lepidopteran classification (van Nieukerken et al., 2011), the Agonoxenidae are treated as a subfamily of Elachistidae [] though Gelechioidea systematics still has a way to go before reaching long term stability.

There are a number of Agonoxena species in the Pacific, and one A. pyrogramma (coconut flat moth) is present in Solomon Islands. There is a fact sheet: no. 65 A. argula is the main pest species in the Pacific and Gerald McCormack kindly allowed me to use an image from his Cook Island database (photo, right).