Living room conservation: Gaming & virtual reality for insect and ecosystem conservation

Gaming and virtual reality could bridge the gap between urban societies and nature, thereby paving the way to insect conservation by the means of education and participation. This is what an interdisciplinary team at Florida International University strive to achieve by developing a virtual reality game (desktop version also available) dedicated to insect and plant species. Focused on imperiled butterflies, their innovative idea: Butterfly World 1.0, is described in the open-access journal Rethinking Ecology.

Participant playing the virtual reality version of Butterfly World 1.0.
Photo by Jaeson Clayborn.

Players explore and search for butterflies using knowledge gained through gameplay

Gaming and virtual reality (VR) could bridge the gap between urban societies and nature, thereby paving the way to insect conservation by the means of education, curiosity and life-like participation.

This is what Florida International University‘s team of computer scientist Alban Delamarre and biologist Dr Jaeson Clayborn strive to achieve by developing a VR game (desktop version also available) dedicated to insect and plant species. Focused on imperiled butterflies, their innovative idea: Butterfly World 1.0, is described in the open-access journal Rethinking Ecology.


When playing, information about each butterfly species is accessed on the player’s game tablet. Image by
Alban Delamarre and Dr Jaeson Clayborn.

Butterfly World 1.0 is an adventure game designed to engage its users in simulated exploration and education. Set in the subtropical dry forest of the Florida Keys (an archipelago situated off the southern coast of Florida, USA), Butterfly World draws the players into an immersive virtual environment where they learn about relationships between butterflies, plants, and invasive species. While exploring the set, they interact with and learn about the federally endangered Schaus’ swallowtail butterfly, the invasive graceful twig ant, native and exotic plants, and several other butterflies inhabiting the dry forest ecosystem. Other nature-related VR experiences, including conservation awareness and educational programs, rely on passive observations with minimal direct interactions between participants and the virtual environment.

According to the authors, virtual reality and serious gaming are “the new frontiers in environmental education” and “present a unique opportunity to interact with and learn about different species and ecosystems”.


In the real world, Spanish needles (Bidens alba) is considered a weed in South Florida. However, it is an excellent nectar source for butterflies.
Photo by Alban Delamarre.

The major advantage is that this type of interactive, computer-generated experience allows for people to observe phenomena otherwise impossible or difficult to witness, such as forest succession over long periods of time, rare butterflies in tropical dry forests, or the effects of invasive species against native wildlife.

“Imagine if, instead of opening a textbook, students could open their eyes to a virtual world. We live in a time where experiential learning and stories about different species matter, because how we feel about and connect with these species will determine their continued existence in the present and future. While technology cannot replace actual exposure to the environment, it can provide similar, near-realistic experiences when appropriately implemented,” say the scientists.

In conclusion, Delamarre and Clayborn note that the purpose of Butterfly World is to build knowledge, reawaken latent curiosity, and cultivate empathy for insect and ecosystem conservation.

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The game is accessible online at: http://ocelot.aul.fiu.edu/~adela177/ButterflyWorld/.

Original source:

Clayborn J, Delamarre A (2019) Living room conservation: a virtual way to engage participants in insect conservation. Rethinking Ecology 4: 31-43. https://doi.org/10.3897/rethinkingecology.4.32763

Austrian-Danish research team discover as many as 22 new moth species from across Europe

The last time so many previously unknown moths have been discovered at once in the best-studied continent was in 1887

One of the newly discovered moths, Megacraspedus faunierensis, in its natural habitat in the Alps.

Following a long-year study of the family of twirler moths, an Austrian-Danish research team discovered a startling total of 44 new species, including as many as 22 species inhabiting various regions throughout Europe.

Given that the Old Continent is the most thoroughly researched one, their findings, published in the open access journal ZooKeys, pose fundamental questions about our knowledge of biodiversity. Such wealth of new to science European moths has not been published within a single research article since 1887.

“The scale of newly discovered moths in one of the Earth’s most studied regions is both sensational and completely unexpected,” say authors Dr Peter Huemer, Tyrolean State Museum, and Ole Karsholt of the University of Copenhagen‘s Zoological Museum. To them, the new species come as proof that, “despite dramatic declines in many insect populations, our fundamental investigations into species diversity are still far from complete”.

 

The challenge of taxonomy

Type locality of the new moth species Megacraspedus faunierensis, Cottian Alps, Italy.

For the authors, it all began when they spotted what seemed like an unclassifiable species of twirler moth in the South Tyrolean Alps. In order to confirm it as a new species, the team conducted a 5-year study into the type specimens of all related species spread across the museum collections of Paris, London, Budapest and many in between.

To confirm the status of all new species, the scientists did not only look for characteristic colouration, markings and anatomical features, but also used the latest DNA methods to create unique genetic fingerprints for most of the species in the form of DNA barcodes.

 

What’s in a name?

A particular challenge for the researchers was to choose as many as 44 names for the new species. Eventually, they named one of the species after the daughter of one of the authors, others – after colleagues and many others – after the regions associated with the particular species. Megacraspedus teriolensis, for example, is translated to “Tyrolean twirler moth”.

Amongst the others, there is one which the scientists named Megacraspedus feminensisbecause they could only find the female, while another – Megacraspedus pacificus, discovered in Afghanistan – was dubbed “an ambassador of peace”.

 

Mysterious large twirler moths

One of the newly discovered moths, Megacraspedus faunierensis, in its natural habitat in the Alps.

All new moths belong to the genus of the large twirler moths (Megacraspedus) placed in the family of twirler moths (Gelechiidae), where the common name refers to their protruding modified mouthparts (labial palps).

The genus of the large twirler moths presents an especially interesting group because of their relatively short wings, where their wingspan ranges between 8 and 26 millimetres and the females are often flightless. While it remains unknown why exactly their wings are so reduced, the scientists assume that it is most likely an adaptation to the turbulent winds at their high-elevation habitats, since the species prefer mountain areas at up to 3,000 metres above sea level.

Out of the 85 documented species, however, both sexes are known in only 35 cases.

The scientists suspect that many of the flightless females are hard to spot on the ground. Similarly, caterpillars of only three species have been observed to date.

While one of the few things we currently know about the large twirler moths is that all species live on different grasses, Huemer and Karsholt believe that it is of urgent importance to conduct further research into the biology of these insects, in order to identify their conservation status and take adequate measures towards their preservation.

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Original source:

Huemer P, Karsholt O (2018) Revision of the genus Megacraspedus Zeller, 1839, a challenging taxonomic tightrope of species delimitation (Lepidoptera, Gelechiidae). ZooKeys 800: 1-278. https://doi.org/10.3897/zookeys.800.26292

Newly discovered moth named Icarus sports a flame-shaped mark and prefers high elevations

The paper describing the new species is part of a special issue dedicated to macro moths of the New World published in the open-access journal ZooKeys

Newly-recognized species of owlet moth recently discovered to inhabit high-elevation mountains in western North America was named after the Greek mythological character Icarus. From now on, scientists will be referring to the new insect as Admetovis icarus.

In their paper, Dr Lars Crabo, Washington State University, USA, and Dr Christian Schmidt, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, explain that the combination of the distinct flame-shaped mark on the moth’s forewing and its high-elevation habitat were quick to remind them of Icarus, who is said to have died after flying so close to the sun that his wings made of wax and feathers caught fire.

The study is part of the seventh volume of the “Contributions to the systematics of New World macro-moths” series, where all previous volumes have also been published as special issues in ZooKeys.

Found in the town of Nederland, Colorado, the moth was collected at an elevation of 2,896 m above sea level. The species has also been recorded all the way from central Utah and central Colorado to the Selkirk Mountains of southeastern British Columbia, including a record from northeastern Oregon. It can be spotted between June and August at night.

In fact, it turns out that the moth has been collected during surveys in the past on multiple occasions, but has been misidentified with another closely related species: Admetovis oxymorus.

While the flame mark is a characteristic feature in all three species known in the genus (Admetovis), in the newly described species it is darker. When compared, the wings of the Icarus moth are also more mottled.

Despite the biology of the larvae being currently unknown, the scientists believe they are climbing cutworms and feed on woody shrubs, similarly to the species Admetovis oxymorus.

“Finding undiscovered moths is not that unusual, even though scientists have been naming insects since the eighteenth century,” says lead author Dr Lars Crabo.

“The Contributions series, edited by Don Lafontaine and Chris Schmidt, in which this discovery is published, really encourages professional and citizen scientists alike to go through the steps necessary to properly name the species that they have discovered. This series of seven volumes also includes a new check list for the United States and Canada, which has led to a re-kindling of interest in moths during the last decade.”

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Original source:

Crabo LG, Schmidt BC (2018) A revision of Admetovis Grote, with the description of a new species from western North America (Noctuidae, Noctuinae, Hadenini). In: Schmidt BC, Lafontaine JD (Eds) Contributions to the systematics of New World macro-moths VIIZooKeys788: 167-181. https://doi.org/10.3897/zookeys.788.26480

Tiny moth from Asia spreading fast on Siberian elms in eastern North America

In 2010, moth collector James Vargo began finding numerous specimens of a hitherto unknown pygmy moth in his light traps on his property in Indiana, USA. When handed to Erik van Nieukerken, researcher at Naturalis Biodiversity Center (Leiden, the Netherlands) and specialist in pygmy moths (family Nepticulidae), the scientist failed to identify it as a previously known species.

These are male specimens of the studied leaf mining moth Stigmella multispicata collected from Iowa, USA.

Then, Erik found a striking similarity of the DNA barcodes with those of a larva he had recently collected on Siberian elm in Beijing’s botanical garden. At the time, the Chinese specimen could not be identified either.

In October 2015, Daniel Owen Gilrein, entomologist at Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County (New York, USA), received samples of green caterpillars seen to descend en masse from Siberian elm trees in Sagaponack, New York. He also received leafmines from the same trees.

Once they joined forces, the researchers did not take long to find out that the specimens from James Vargo and the caterpillars from New York belonged to one and the same species. The only thing left was its name.

Following further investigation, the scientists identified the moth as Stigmella multispicata – a pygmy moth described in 2014 from Primorye, Russia, by the Lithuanian specialists Agne Rociene and Jonas Stonis.

“Apparently, this meant that we were dealing with a recent invasion from East Asia into North America,” explains Erik.

Once the researchers had figured out how to identify the leafminer, they were quick to spot its existence in plenty of collections and occurrence reports from websites, such as BugGuide and iNaturalist.

With the help of Charley Eiseman, a naturalist from Massachusetts specializing in North American leafminers, the authors managed to conclude the moth’s existence in ten US states and two Canadian provinces. In most cases, the species was found on or near Siberian elm – another species transferred from Asia to North America.

Their study is published in the open access journal ZooKeys.

Despite the oldest records dating from 2010, it turned out that the species had already been well established at the time. The authors suspect that the spread has been assisted by transport of plants across nurseries.

“Even though Stigmella multispicata does not seem to be a real problem, it would be a good idea to follow its invasion over North America, and to monitor whether the species may also attack native elm species,” the researchers point out.

Distribution in North America.

Interestingly, in addition to the newly identified moth, the Siberian elms in North America have been struggling with another, even more common, invasive leafminer from Asia: the weevil species Orchestes steppensis. The beetle had been previously misnamed as the European elm flea weevil.

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Original source:

van Nieukerken EJ, Gilrein DO, Eiseman CS (2018) Stigmella multispicata Rociene & Stonis, an Asian leafminer on Siberian elm, now widespread in eastern North America (Lepidoptera, Nepticulidae). ZooKeys 784: 95-125. https://doi.org/10.3897/zookeys.784.27296

Double trouble: Invasive insect species overlooked as a result of a shared name

An invasive leaf-mining moth, feeding on cornelian cherry, has been gradually expanding its distributional range from its native Central Europe northwards for a period likely longer than 60 years. During that period, it has remained under the cover of a taxonomic confusion, while going by a name shared with another species that feeds on common dogwood.

To reproduce, this group of leaf-mining moths lay their eggs in specific plants, where the larvae make tunnels or ‘mines’, in the leaves. At the end of these burrows, they bite off an oval section, in which they can later pupate. These cutouts are also termed ‘shields’, prompting the common name of the family, the shield-bearer moths.

During a routine study into the DNA of leaf-mining moths, Erik van Nieukerken, researcher at Naturalis Biodiversity Center, Leiden, the Netherlands, discovered that the DNA barcodes of the species feeding on common dogwood and cornelian cherry were in fact so different that they could only arise from two separate species. As a result, Erik teamed up with several other scientists and amateur entomologists to initiate a more in-depth taxonomic study.

Curiously, it turned out that the two species had been first identified on their own as early as in 1899, before being described in detail by a Polish scientist in the 50s. Ironically, it was another Polish study, published in the 70s, that regarded the evidence listed in that description as insufficient and synonymised the two leaf-miners under a common name (Antispila treitschkiella).

Now, as a result of the recent study undertaken by van Nieukerken and his collaborators, the two moth species – Antispila treitschkiella and Antispila petryi – have their diagnostic features listed in a research article published in the open access journal Nota Lepidopterologica.

“We now establish that the species feeding on common dogwood, A. petryi, does not differ only in its DNA barcode, but also in characters of the larva, genitalia and life history,” explains Erik van Nieukerken. “A. petryi has a single annual generation, with larvae found from August to November, whereas A. treitschkiella, which feeds on cornelian cherry, has two generations, with larvae occurring in June-July and once again between September and November.”

While van Nieukerken and his team were working on the taxonomy of the moths, David C. Lees of the Natural History Museum, London, spotted a female leaf-miner in the Wildlife Garden of the museum. Following consultation with van Nieukerken, it turned out that the specimen in question was the first genuine A. treitschkiella ever to be found in Britain. Subsequently, the research groups decided to join forces, leading to the present discovery.

Despite the lack of data for the British Isles, it is already known that, in continental Europe, the cornelian cherry-feeding species had established in the Netherlands and much of Germany in the 1990s.

0.6 x 1.0

With common dogwood being widely planted, it is now suspected that A. petryi has recently reached Sweden and Estonia, even though there was no previous evidence of the leaf-miner expanding its range.

“This discovery should provoke the attention of gardeners and other members of the public alike to the invasive leafminers attacking some of our much admired trees and shrubs, as we have demonstrated for the cornelian cherry – a species well-known for its showy red berries in the autumn,” says David Lees.

“Especially in Britain, we hope that they check their photos for the conspicuous leaf mines, recognisable by those oval cutouts, to see if they can solve the mystery of when the invasion, which is now prominent on cornels around London, actually started, and how fast it progresses. Citizen scientists can help.”

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Original source:

van Nieukerken EJ, Lees DC, Doorenweerd C, Koster S(JC), Bryner R, Schreurs A, Timmermans MJTN, Sattler K (2018) Two European Cornus L. feeding leafmining moths, Antispila petryi Martini, 1899, sp. rev. and A. treitschkiella (Fischer von Röslerstamm, 1843) (Lepidoptera, Heliozelidae): an unjustified synonymy and overlooked range expansion. Nota Lepidopterologica 41(1): 39-86. https://doi.org/10.3897/nl.41.22264

Two new snout moth genera and three new species discovered in southern China

New members have joined the ranks of the snout moths – one of the largest groups within the insect order known formally as Lepidoptera, comprising all moths and butterflies.

Recently, taxonomists Dr. Mingqiang Wang, Dr. Fuqiang Chen, Prof. Chaodong Zhu and Prof. Chunsheng Wu of the Institute of Zoology at the Chinese Academy of Sciences described two genera and three species previously unknown to science discovered in southern China.

Their study is published in the open access journal ZooKeys.

Having named one of the two new genera Androconia, the scientists acknowledge a peculiar characteristic feature in these moths. The name derives from androconium, which is a set of modified scales located on the forewing in males and used to produce odors attractive to females. Not only is this feature evident in the newly described genus, but it also amazes with its shape reminiscent of a tower. The genus currently hosts two species – both described in the present study.

The second new genus, named Arcanusa, is established based on a species already discovered back in 2003, however, misplaced in another genus. The third new species announced in the present paper is also assigned to this genus.

Image 2In conclusion, the authors note that given the latitude they discovered all of the studied moths, it is highly likely that more species belonging to the newly described genera are pending discovery in the adjacent countries – especially India.

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Original source:

Wang M, Chen F, Zhu C, Wu C (2017) Two new genera and three new species of Epipaschiinae Meyrick from China (Lepidoptera, Pyralidae). ZooKeys 722: 87-99. https://doi.org/10.3897/zookeys.722.12362

New butterfly species discovered in Russia with an unusual set of 46 chromosomes

What looked like a population of a common butterfly species turned out to be a whole new organism, and, moreover – one with a very peculiar genome organisation.

Discovered by Vladimir Lukhtanov, entomologist and evolutionary biologist at the Zoological Institute in St. Petersburg, Russia, and Alexander Dantchenko, entomologist and chemist at the Moscow State University, the startling discovery was named South-Russian blue (Polyommatus australorossicus). It was found flying over the northern slopes of the Caucasus mountains in southern Russia. The study is published in the open access journal Comparative Cytogenetics.

“This publication is the long-awaited completion of a twenty-year history,” says Vladimir Lukhtanov.

In the mid-nineties, Vladimir Lukhtanov, together with his students and collaborators, started an exhaustive study of Russian butterflies using an array of modern and traditional research techniques. In 1997, Alexander Dantchenko who was mostly focused on butterfly ecology, sampled a few blue butterfly specimens from northern slopes of the Caucasus mountains. These blues looked typical at first glance and were identified as Azerbaijani blue (Polyommatus aserbeidschanus).

However, when the scientists looked at them under a microscope, it became clear that they had 46 chromosomes – a very unusual number for this group of the blue butterflies and exactly the same count as in humans.

Having spent twenty years studying the chromosomes of more than a hundred blue butterfly species and sequencing DNA from all closely related species, the researchers were ready to ascertain the uniqueness of the discovered butterfly and its chromosome set.

Throughout the years of investigation, it has become clear that caterpillars of genetically related species in the studied butterfly group feed on different, but similar plants. This discovery enables entomologists to not only discover new butterfly species with the help of botanic information, but also protect them.

“We are proud of our research,” says Vladimir Lukhtanov. “It contributes greatly to both the study of biodiversity and understanding the mechanisms of biological evolution.”

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Original source:

Lukhtanov VA, Dantchenko AV (2017) A new butterfly species from south Russia revealed through chromosomal and molecular analysis of the Polyommatus (Agrodiaetus) damonides complex (Lepidoptera, Lycaenidae). Comparative Cytogenetics 11(4): 769-795. https://doi.org/10.3897/CompCytogen.v11i4.20072

Rare footage of a new clearwing moth species from Malaysia reveals its behavior

Unique footage of a new species of clearwing moth has been recorded in a primeval rainforest in Peninsular Malaysia revealing the behaviour of this elusive insect.

Clearwing moths, which are day-flying insects belonging to the Sesiidae family, imitate bees and wasps. Apart from the common species considered as agricultural pests, these moths are known mainly from old museum specimens, stored on pins in forgotten drawers. In the wild, they are elusive creatures, rarely spotted and, hence, poorly studied.

Marta Skowron Volponi from the University of Gdansk, Poland, a PhD student specialising in entomology, teamed up with nature filmmaker and photographer Paolo Volponi, associated with the ClearWing Foundation for Biodiversity, to find these intriguing insects. The results of their studies were recently published in ZooKeys.

In their search for clearwing moths, they went deep into the virgin Malaysian jungle, where elephants, tigers, tapirs and other charismatic Southeast Asian animals roam, while dealing with the intense heat, humidity and countless blood-suckers.

In the end, however, their effort was worth it: on a bank of a crystal clear river, during the hottest hours of the day, the researchers discovered a new species of clearwing moth displaying behaviour known as mud-puddling.

“Mud-puddling is the process of sucking-up liquids in order to gain essential nutrients, such as salt or proteins”, explains Marta. “It has only recently been observed in clearwing moths and, similarly as in other Lepidopterans, it seems to be restricted to males”.

The newly discovered species was named Pyrophleps ellawi in honour of Marta and Paolo’s Malaysian friend EL Law who supported the team during their expeditions and who has a deep affinity for nature.

Curiously, rather than resembling a butterfly’s relative, the new moth looks like an insect from a whole different order. It mimics potter wasps.

“It has a slender body, long legs and transparent wings with a blue sheen in sunlight, similarly to some species of potter wasps”, says Marta.

Furthermore, while observing the moth in the wild, the authors noticed that it does not only look like a wasp – it also flies like one.

“There were potter wasps in the same area. In flight, the two insects were impossible to distinguish, they would always confuse us!”

The new species seems to be quite rare. During the authors’ three expeditions to Malaysia, they managed to see only eight individuals with each of them seen on a different day.

“So there we were: on our knees on a sandy beach, in the middle of the jungle, trying to film the 1.5 cm moth”, Marta recalls. “We didn’t have much time: a single clearwing would come around 2:00 PM and stay for several minutes only. We knew that once it flew away, we would not get another shot”.

“Could it be that their rarity is the reason why the behaviour of clearwing moths is practically unknown and why there are still new species waiting to be discovered?” the researchers wonder.

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Original source:

Skowron Volponi MA, Volponi P (2017) A new species of wasp-mimicking clearwing moth from Peninsular Malaysia with DNA barcode and behavioural notes (Lepidoptera, Sesiidae). ZooKeys692: 129-139. Doi: 10.3897/zookeys.692.13587

 

An overlooked and rare new gall-inducing micromoth from Brazil

A new species and genus (Cecidonius pampeanus) of primitive monotrysian micromoth from the Brazilian Pampa biome has been recently discovered to induce scarcely noticeable galls under the swollen stems of the Uruguayan pepper tree.

Gall-inducing moths lay their eggs in the tree bark, where the larvae form the characteristic roundish swellings as they grow larger. In their turn, these galls attract various parasitoids and inquiline wasps – wasps that have lost the ability to form galls for their own eggs – and so they take advantage of the galls of other species, while under development. The inquilines modify the galls into larger ones which subsequently last longer and attract even more attention. As a result, even though abundant as young, the new moth’s larvae rarely survive and their density in the field later in life is low.

Moreiraetal_PressRelease_Image2While free-living gall moths are generally rare, the studied genus pupates on the ground, resulting in its being overlooked for over a century. Furthermore, the galls fall to the ground where the last instar larvae undergo a period of suspended development for months. They stay motionless within their gall until pupation and emerge as adults in the next growing season.

After all this time, this species has finally been recognised in the open access journal ZooKeys by an international research team, led by Dr. Gilson Moreira, Universidade Federal do Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil. In their paper, the scientists describe the gall, immature stages and adults of the moth. They also provide information on its natural history in conjunction with one of the associated parasitoid and inquiline wasps.

“It took several years to obtain a small number of C. pampeanus pupae and adults to use for the description,” say the authors.

“The existence of these galls has been known for more than a century. However, biologists believed they are induced by the inquiline wasps,” they explain. “Consequently, it turned out that the wasps do not induce galls, but rather modify them early in development into large and colourful, visually appealing galls.”

The study also provides strong evidence that the species is under threat of extinction and the scientists suggest that protective measures need to be taken to conserve it.

In fact, they found strikingly low levels of gene flow amongst populations of C. pampeanus. In their paper, the team also emphasises that, in case of extinction of the primary gall inducer, a whole insect community associated with their galls will follow. This could happen even before science becomes familiar with all of these species.

Open savannahs of southern Brazil, where populations of the new moth’s host plant (the Uruguayan pepper tree) are found, have been suffering from anthropic impact for decades, mostly caused by agriculture and cattle ranching.

Curiously, the present study is the first in Brazil to suggest that a micromoth and its associated fauna should be subjected to conservation measures.

Extant populations of the new species are distant and isolated from each other, being restricted to a small geographic area in the northeast Southern Brazilian “Campos” (= Pampean savannah), a neglected biome from a nature preservation perspective. Most of the moths have retreated to higher elevations, such as hilltops and hill slopes interspersed with small bushes, where they get shelter from the anthropic influence.

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Original source:

Moreira GRP, Eltz RP, Pase RB, Silva GT, Bordignon SAL, Mey W, Gonçalves GL (2017) Cecidonius pampeanus, gen. et sp. n.: an overlooked and rare, new gall-inducing micromoth associated with Schinus in southern Brazil (Lepidoptera, Cecidosidae). ZooKeys 695: 37-74. https://doi.org/10.3897/zookeys.695.13320

New butterfly species discovered in Israel for the first time in 109 years

Vladimir Lukhtanov, entomologist and evolutionary biologist at the Zoological Institute in St. Petersburg, Russia, made a startling discovery: what people had thought was a population of a common species, turned out to be a whole new organism and, moreover – one with an interesting evolutionary history. This new species is named Acentria’s fritillary (Melitaea acentria) and was found flying right over the slopes of the popular Mount Hermon ski resort in northern Israel. It is described in the open access journal Comparative Cytogenetics.

“To me, it was a surprise that no one had already discovered it,” says Vladimir Lukhtanov.

“Thousands of people had observed and many had even photographed this beautifully coloured butterfly, yet no one recognised it as a separate species. The lepidopterists (experts in butterflies and moths) had been sure that the Hermon samples belonged to the common species called Persian fritillary (Melitaea persea), because of their similar appearance, but nobody made the effort to study their internal anatomy and DNA”.

In 2012, Vladimir Lukhtanov, together with his students, initiated an exhaustive study of Israeli butterflies using an array of modern and traditional research techniques. In 2013, Asya Novikova (until 2012, a master’s student at St. Petersburg University and, from 2013, a PhD student at the Hebrew University, Jerusalem) sampled a few fritillaries from Mt. Hermon.

It was at that time when the researchers noticed that the specimens “didn’t look right” – their genitalia appeared different from those of the typical Persian fritillary. Over the next few years, Lukhtanov and his students studied this population in-depth. They carried out sequencing DNA from the specimens and found that they had a unique molecular signature – very different from the DNA of any other fritillary.

The Acentria’s fritillary seems to be endemic in northern Israel and the neighbouring territories of Syria and Lebanon. Its evolutionary history is likely to prove interesting.

“The species is probably one of a handful of butterflies known to have arisen through hybridisation between two other species in the past,” says Lukhtanov. “This process is known to be common in plants, but scientists have only recently realised it might also be present in butterflies.”

This is the first new butterfly species discovered and described from the territory of Israel in 109 years.

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Original source:

Lukhtanov VA (2017) A new species of Melitaea from Israel, with notes on taxonomy, cytogenetics, phylogeography and interspecific hybridization in the Melitaea persea complex (Lepidoptera, Nymphalidae). Comparative Cytogenetics 11(2): 325-357. https://doi.org/10.3897/CompCytogen.v11i2.12370