First moth species on Alpenrose discovered

Discovery of the first moth species to mine the leaves of the highly poisonous Alpine rose

 Rust-red alpine rose, one of the most popular alpine plants. Photo by Ingrid Huemer

An Austrian-Swiss research team was able to find a previously unknown glacial relic in the Alps, the Alpine rose leaf-miner moth. It is the first known species to have its caterpillars specializing on the rust-red alpine rose, a very poisonous, widely distributed plant that most animals, including moths and butterflies, strictly avoid. The extraordinary record was just published in the peer-reviewed scientific journal Alpine Entomology.

Poisonous host plant

The rust-red alpine rose (Rhododendron ferrugineum) is among the best-known and most attractive plants due to its flowering splendor – at least for humans. It is, in fact, a highly poisonous plant, strictly avoided by grazing animals. For insects, the alpine rose is attractive at most as a nectar plant; insect larvae, on the other hand, develop on it only in exceptional cases. This also applies to Alpine butterflies and moths, which leave Alpine roses largely untouched despite their wide distribution. Therefore, the discovery of a highly specialized species in the Alps came as a complete surprise.

Chance find

Since alpine roses are unattractive to caterpillars and no insect the entire Alpine region was previously known to specialize on them, butterfly and moth experts had considered them rather uninteresting and ignored them in their research. The discovery of the alpine rose leaf-miner wasn’t the result of a targeted search: it was a pure stroke of luck.

During a cloudy spell in July this year, researchers surveying the butterflies in Ardez in the Engadine valley, Switzerland, happened to take a break exactly at an infested alpine rose bush. 

“The accidental sighting of the first caterpillar in an alpine rose leaf was an absolute adrenaline rush, it was immediately clear that this must be an extraordinary species,”

Peter Huemer, researcher and head of the natural sciences department of the Tyrolean State Museums

Peter Huemer, researcher and head of the natural sciences department of the Tyrolean State Museums, and Swiss butterfly and moth expert Jürg Schmid came back in late July and early August to look for caterpillars and pupae and find out more about this curious insect. The extended search yielded evidence of a stable population of a species that was initially a complete enigma. 

Life in the leaf

The alpine rose leaf-miner moth drills through the upper leaf skin and into the leaf interior immediately after the caterpillar hatches. The caterpillar then spends its entire life until pupation between the intact leaf skins, eating the leaf from the inside. Thanks to this behavior, the caterpillar is just as well protected from bad weather as from many predators such as birds, spiders, or some carnivore insects. The feeding trail, called a leaf mine, begins with a long corridor and ends in a large square-like mine section. The feces are deposited inside this mine. When the time comes for pupation, the caterpillar leaves the infested leaf and makes a typical web on the underside or a nearby leaf. With the help of several fine silk threads, it produces an elaborate “hammock”, in which the pupation finally takes place. In the laboratory, after about 10 days, the successful breeding to a moth succeeded, with a striking result.

Enigmatic glacial relic

Final instar larva of the alpine rose leaf-miner moth on Rhododendron ferrugineum in Ardez, Graubünden, Switzerland. Photo by Jürg Schmid

Huemer and Schmid were surprised to find out that the moths belonged to a species that was widespread in northern Europe, northern Asia and North America – the swamp porst leaf-miner butterfly Lyonetia ledi. By looking at its morphological features, such as wing color and pattern, and comparing its DNA barcodes to those of northern European specimens, they were able to confirm its identity.

Habitat of the alpine rose leaf-miner moth in Engadine/Switzerland with Rhododendron ferrugineum. Photo by Jürg Schmid

The Engadine population, however, is located more than 400 km away from the nearest other known populations, which are on the border of Austria and the Czech Republic. Furthermore, the species lives in northern Europe exclusively on swamp porst and Gagel bush – two shrubs that are typical for raised bogs and absent from the Alps. However, the researchers suggest that in earlier cold phases – some 22,000 years ago – the swamp porst and the alpine rose did share a habitat in perialpine lowland habitats north of the Alps. It is very likely that after the last cold period and the melting of the glaciers, some populations of the species shifted their host preference from the swamp porst to the alpine rose. The separation of the distribution areas of the two plants caused by subsequent warm phases inevitably led to the separation of the moth populations. 

Extinction risk

The Alpine Rose Leaf-miner Moth is so far only known from the Lower Engadine. It lives in a steep, north-exposed, spruce-larch-pine forest at about 1,800 m above sea level. The high snow coverage in winter and the largely shady conditions in summer mean that alpine roses don’t get to bloom there. The scientists suspect that the moth species can still be discovered in places with similar conditions in the northern Alps, such as in neighboring Tyrol and Vorarlberg. Since the moth is likely nocturnal and flies late in the year, probably hibernating in the adult stage, the search for the caterpillars and pupae is more promising. However, the special microclimate of the Swiss location does not suggest that this species, which has so far been overlooked despite 250 years of research, is widespread. On the contrary, there are legitimate concerns that it could be one of the first victims of climate change.

Research article:

Huemer P, Schmid J (2021) Relict populations of Lyonetia ledi Wocke, 1859 (Lepidoptera, Lyonetiidae) from the Alps indicate postglacial host-plant shift to the famous Alpenrose (Rhododendron ferrugineum L.). Alpine Entomology 5: 101-106. https://doi.org/10.3897/alpento.5.76930

Development anomalies recorded for the first time in a rare tiger moth

The Menetries’ tiger moth (Arctia menetriesii) is one of the rarest and most poorly studied Palaearctic moth species. Even though its adult individuals are large and brightly coloured, they are difficult to spot, because they aren’t attracted to light, they’re not active at night, and they fly reluctantly. Currently, the species only inhabits two countries – Finland and the Russian Federation, and is included in the Red Lists of both, as Data Deficient in the former and Vulnerable in the latter.

Live male adult of Arctia menetriesii. Photo by Evgeny Koshkin

For 13 years, researcher Evgeny Koshkin of the Institute of Water and Ecology Problems of the Far Eastern branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences kept searching for the elusive Menetries’ tiger moth in its habitat in the Bureinsky Nature Reserve, 400 km north of Khabarovsk, Russia, but he only ever found it in 2018, in what was the first record of this species in 34 years in this region. That’s how rare it is.

Eggs of Arctia Menetrisii. Photo by Evgeny Koshkin

After collecting eggs from a female moth, Koshkin documented the species’ biology under laboratory conditions and described its immature stages in the open-access, peer-reviewed scientific journal Nota Lepidopterologica. For the first time, detailed photographs of all developmental stages of this species have been published. 

In laboratory conditions, the development cycle of the Menetries’ tiger moth from egg laying to an adult individual lasts between 72 and 83 days. Out of the 105 eggs that the female moth laid in captivity, however, only 13 transformed into adults, and out of those, only four were able to spread their wings. In the last larval instar, about 75% of the larvae died immediately before pupation, and a number of metamorphosis anomalies were observed in the ones that survived.

Metamorphosis anomalies in Arctia menetriesii (L-R): lethal larva-pupa intermediate; female emerged from larva-pupa intermediate – head and thorax left covered with the larval cuticle; female emerged from larva-pupa intermediate – larval cuticle removed; pupa with insignificant anomalies; pupa with severe anomalies. Photos by Evgeny Koshkin

This is the first time that such anomalies and morphological defects of pupae are documented in the Menetries’ tiger moth, and it is possible that they occur in a similar way in nature. Some metamorphosis anomalies manifested as larva-pupa intermediates due to disrupted molting, and pupae with severe anomalies produced adults that were unable to inflate their wings.

Seventh instar larva of Arctia Menetresii. Photo by Evgeny Koshkin

It is possible that the diet of the laboratory-reared larvae might have had something to do with the high mortality rate before pupation and the metamorphosis anomalies during it. Some of the larvae were fed on Aconitum leaves and larch needles during certain periods of their lives, and it is possible that toxic compounds found in these plants might have impacted their health and development. More research on larval diet would be needed, however, to confirm or reject this hypothesis.

Original source:

Koshkin ES (2021) Life history of the rare boreal tiger moth Arctia menetriesii (Eversmann, 1846) (Lepidoptera, Erebidae, Arctiinae) in the Russian Far East. Nota Lepidopterologica 44: 141-151. https://doi.org/10.3897/nl.44.62801

Carried with the wind: mass migration of Larch Budmoth to the Russian High Arctic

Live Larch Budmoth walking on tundra, Vize Island, air temperature +3C, 30.07.2020. Photo by Dr Maria Gavrilo

Arctic habitats have fascinated biologists for centuries. Their species-poor insect faunas, however, provide little reward for entomologists – scientists who study insects – to justify spending several weeks or even months in the hostile environments of tundra or polar deserts. As a result, data on insects from the High Arctic islands are often based on occasional collecting and remain scarce.

Vize Island has uniform flatland landscape with lichen-moss vegetation typicalfor High-Arctic islands. Photo by Dr Maria Gavrilo

Vize Island, located in the northern part of the Kara Sea, is one of the least studied islands of the Russian High Arctic in terms of its biota. Scientists Dr Maria V. Gavrilo of the Arctic and Antarctic Research Institute in Russia and Dr Igor I. Chupin of the Institute of Systematics and Ecology of Animals in Russia visited this ice-free lowland island in the summer of 2020. 

“Our expedition studied the ecology of Ivory Gull”, Maria Gavrilo says, “but we also looked for other wildlife.” Because of the lack of data, scientists appreciate any observation on insects they can get from the High Arctic.

On the island, the team found hundreds of small moths. They were identified by Dr Mikhail V. Kozlov of the University of Turku, Finland, as Larch Budmoths – the first and only terrestrial invertebrate to ever be observed and collected on Vize Island. Their observations are published in the open-access, peer-reviewed journal Nota Lepidopterologica.

Live Larch Budmoth walking on tundra, Vize Island, air temperature +3C, 30.07.2020. The scientists believe that this moth arrived on the island two weeks earlier after travelling with the winds some 1200 km across the Arctic ocean. Photo by Dr Maria Gavrilo 

The scientists first observed live and freshly dead moths on the sandy banks of a pond near the meteorological station. Then, they saw hundreds of them at the sandy bottom of a river valley with shallow streams. Moths, single or in groups, were mostly found at the water’s edge, along with some fine floating debris. Despite extremely low daily temperatures (+2-5°C), flying moths were also spotted on several occasions.

On average, four dead moths per 10 square meters were counted along the sandy river bed during a survey on 19.07.2020. Photo by Dr Maria Gavrilo 

The larvae of Larch Budmoth feed on the needles of different coniferous trees. Because Vize Island is located 1000 km north of the tree limit, the scientists can be sure about the migratory origin of the moths observed on Vize Island. They were likely transported there on 12–14 July 2020 by strong winds coming from the continent. The nearest potential source population of Larch Budmoth is located in the northern part of the Krasnoyarsk Region, which means they travelled at least 1200 km.

“The Arctic islands will be colonised by forest insects as soon as changing environmental conditions allow the establishment of local populations.”

Dr Mikhail V. Kozlov, University of Turku

Importantly, some moths remained alive and active for at least 20 days after their arrival, which means that long-distance travel did not critically deplete resources stored in their bodies. The current changes in climate are making it easier for more southerly insects to invade species-poor areas in the High Arctic islands – provided they can reach them and survive there.

“The successful arrival of a large number of live moths from continental Siberian forests to Vize Island has once more demonstrated the absence of insurmountable barriers to initial colonisation of High Arctic islands by forest insects”, concludes Mikhail Kozlov, who has studied Arctic insects for decades. “The Arctic islands will be colonised by forest insects as soon as changing environmental conditions allow the establishment of local populations.”

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Original source:

Gavrilo MV, Chupin II, Kozlov MV (2021) Carried with the wind: mass occurrence of Zeiraphera griseana (Hübner, 1799) (Lepidoptera, Tortricidae) on Vize Island (Russian High Arctic). Nota Lepidopterologica 44: 91–97. https://doi.org/10.3897/nl.44.63662

New species of moths discovered in the Alps named after three famous alpinists

David Lama (1990 – 2019), a legendary alpinist, recognised by the study’s author also for his commitment to conservation.
Photo by MoserB / Copyrighted free use

The discovery of new, still unnamed animal species in a well-researched European region like the Alps is always a small sensation. All the more surprising is the description of a total of three new to science species previously misidentified as long-known alpine moths.

During a genetic project of the Tyrolean State Museums in Innsbruck (Austria), Austrian entomologist and head of the Natural Science Collections Peter Huemer used an integrative research approach that relies on molecular methods to study four European moths. Despite having been known for decades, those species remained quite controversial, because of many unknowns around their biology.

At the end, however, it turned out that the scientist was not dealing with four, but seven species. The three that were not adding up were indeed previously unknown species. Therefore, Huemer described the moths in a paper in the open-access, peer-reviewed journal Alpine Entomology. Curiously, all three species were given the names of legendary alpinists: Reinhold Messner, Peter Habeler and David Lama.

Habitat of Caryocolum lamai (Lama’s Curved-horn moth), Italy, Alpi Cozie, Colle Valcavera.
Photo by Peter Huemer

Tribute to three legends in alpinism

“The idea to name the new species in honour of three world-renowned climbers was absolutely no coincidence,”

explains Huemer.

One of the newly described species, Caryocolum messneri, or Messner’s Curved-horn moth, is dedicated to Reinhold Messner. Messner is a famous alpinist who was the first to reach Mount Everest without additional oxygen, but also the first climber to ascend all fourteen peaks over 8,000 metres. For decades, he has been inspiring followers through lectures and books. His is also the Messner Mountain Museum project, which comprises six museums located at six different locations in South Tyrol, northern Italy, where each has the task to educate visitors on “man’s encounter with mountains” by showcasing the science of mountains and glaciers, the history of mountaineering and rock climbing, the history of mythical mountains, and the history of mountain-dwelling people.

“So what could have been a better fit for a name for the species that flutters on the doorstep of his residence, the Juval Castle in South Tyrol?”

says Huemer.

The second new species, Caryocolum habeleri, or Habeler’s Curved-horn moth, honours another extraordinary mountaineer: Peter Habeler. Having joined Messner on his expedition to Mount Everest, he also climbed this mountain without additional oxygen in a first for history. Another achievement is his climbing the famous Eiger North Face in mere 10 hours. Additionally, together with the study’s author, he sits on the advisory board of the nature conservation foundation “Blühendes Österreich“. However, the species’ name is also a nod to Peter Habeler’s cousin: Heinz Habeler, recognised as “the master of butterfly and moth research in Styria”. His collection is now housed in the Tyrolean State Museums.

The third alpinist, whose name is immortalised in a species name, is David Lama, specially recognised by Huemer for his commitment to conservation. Once, in order to protect endangered butterflies along the steep railway embankments in Innsbruck, Lama took care to secure volunteers in a remarkable action. Nevertheless, Lama earned his fame for his spectacular climbing achievements. His was the first free ascent of the Compressor route on the south-eastern flank of Cerro Torre.

“Unfortunately, David lost his life far too soon in a tragic avalanche accident on 16 April 2019 in Banff National Park, Canada. Now, Caryocolum lamai (Lama’s Curved-horn moth) is supposed to make him ‘immortal’ also in the natural sciences,”

says Huemer.

Many unresolved questions

The newly described moth species are closely related and belong to the genus Caryocolum of the so-called Curved-horn moths (family Gelechiidae).

A Curved-horn moth of the genus Caryocolum feeding on a carnation plant. This genus feeds exclusively on plants in the carnation family (Caryophyllaceae).
Photo by P. Buchner / Tiroler Landesmuseen

As caterpillars, the species of this genus live exclusively on carnation plants. Even though the biology of the new moths is still unknown, because of their collection localities, it could be deduced that plants such as the stone carnation are likely their hosts. All species are restricted to dry and sunny habitats and sometimes inhabit altitudes of up to 2,500 m. So far, they have only been observed with artificial light at night.

While Messner’s Curved-horn moth occurs from northern Italy to Greece, the area of Habeler’s Curved-horn Moth is limited to the regions between southern France, northern Switzerland and southeastern Germany. On the other hand, Caryocolum lamai, only inhabits a small area in the western Alps of Italy and France.

Research on alpine butterflies and moths has been an important scientific focus at the Tyrolean state museums for decades. In 30 years, Peter Huemer discovered and named over 100 previously unknown to science species of lepidopterans. All these new discoveries have repeatedly shown the gaps in the study of biodiversity, even in Central Europe.

“How could we possibly protect a species that we don’t even have a name for is one of the key questions for science that derives from these studies,”

says Huemer in conclusion.

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Original source:

Huemer P (2020) Integrative revision of the Caryocolum schleichi species group – a striking example of a temporally changing species concept (Lepidoptera, Gelechiidae). Alpine Entomology 4: 39-63. https://doi.org/10.3897/alpento.4.50703

New to science New Zealand moths link mythological deities to James Cameron’s films

In an unexpected discovery from New Zealand, two species of narrowly distributed moths were described as new species. Interestingly, both Arctesthes titanica and Arctesthes avatar were named after mythological deities and top-grossing blockbusters by famous filmmaker James Cameron: Titanic and Avatar, respectively.


The newly described moth species Arctesthes avatar in its natural habitat (South Island, New Zealand). Photo by Brian Patrick.

In an unexpected discovery from the South Island (New Zealand), two species of narrowly distributed macro-moths were described as new species. Interestingly, both Arctesthes titanica and Arctesthes avatar were named after mythological deities and top-grossing blockbusters by famous filmmaker James Cameron: Titanic and Avatar, respectively.

Each of the newly described species are believed to be restricted to only a couple of subalpine/alpine localities. Therefore, they are particularly vulnerable to extinction and need to be “considered of very high priority for conservation”, point out New Zealand scientists Brian Patrick (Wildland Consultants Ltd), Hamish Patrick (Lincoln University) and Dr Robert Hoare (Manaaki Whenua-Landcare Researchin their paper in the open-access journal Alpine Entomology.


Male (left) and female (right) specimens of the newly described moth species Arctesthes titanica. Photo by Birgit Rhode.

Because of its relatively large size, one of the new discoveries: A. titanica, was named in reference to the Titans: the elderly gods in Greek mythology and the legendary, if ill-fated, record-breaking passenger ship ‘Titanic’, which became the subject of the famous 1997 American epic romance and disaster film of the same name. Unfortunately, the moth’s small wetland habitat is located in an area that is currently facing a range of damaging farming practices, such as over-sowing, grazing, stock trampling and vehicle damage.

On the other hand, A. avatar received its name after Forest & Bird, the New Zealand conservation organisation that was behind the 2012 BioBlitz at which the new species was collected, ran a public competition where “the avatar moth” turned up as the winning entry. The reference is to the indigenous people and fauna in Avatar. Just like them, the newly described moth is especially vulnerable to habitat change and destruction. In addition, the study’s authors note that the original avatars came from Hindu mythology, where they are the incarnations of deities, including Vishnu, for example, who would transform into Varaha the boar.

In conclusion, the scientists point out that future studies to monitor and further understand the fauna of New Zealand are of crucial importance for its preservation:

“Quantitative studies as well as work on life histories and ecology are particularly needed. Already one formerly common endemic geometrid species, Xanthorhoe bulbulata, has declined drastically and is feared possibly extinct: its life history and host-plant have never been discovered. Without further intensive study of the fauna of modified and threatened New Zealand environments, we will be unable to prevent other species slipping away.”

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Original source:

Patrick BH, Patrick HJH, Hoare RJB (2019) Review of the endemic New Zealand genus Arctesthes Meyrick (Lepidoptera, Geometridae, Larentiinae), with descriptions of two new range-restricted species. Alpine Entomology 3: 121-136. https://doi.org/10.3897/alpento.3.33944

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.

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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

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