Biologist discovers pink-winged moth in Chiracahua Mountains

Jun 10, 2009
This is a picture of the new moth species, Lithophane leeae. Credit: Bruce Walsh, the University of Arizona

University of Arizona biologist Bruce Walsh has identified a new species of moth in southern Arizona. Normally, this is not a big deal. The region is one of the most biologically rich areas in the country and collectors have been finding hundreds of new species for decades. This one, however, is different.

Walsh is a professor of ecology and and a member of the UA's BIO5 Institute. He is best known in the science community as an authority on plant and animal breeding, having written one of the leading textbooks on the subject.

His work also spans several departments and programs, including statistics, applied math, insect science and genetics. He also teaching biostatistics in the UA Zuckerman College of Public Health and has worked with trial attorneys on interpreting DNA evidence. Collecting moths is a hobby.

His new discovery is Lithophane leeae. Walsh found it in the Chiracahua mountains east of Tucson, and reported it in the journal Zoo Keys.

Lithophane moths are members of the noctuid family, which often are dull colored. Walsh's , in contrast, is bright pink. He also named it after his wife, Lee, who has an affinity for the color.

Walsh discovered L. leeae while collecting one evening at Onion Saddle, at about 7,700 feet in the Chiracahuas. Collecting involves illuminating a sheet with mercury vapor lamps. Moths are attracted by the lights and will land on the sheet.

"This large moth flew in and we didn't think much of it because there is a silk moth very much like it, a Doris silk moth that feeds on pines that has dark wings with pink on the hind wings. It's fairly common there."

On closer inspection, though, the moth, a female, appeared to be an entirely different species from an entirely different family. Walsh said it currently is the only known individual.

Scientists are generally reluctant to identify a new species based on one individual, but L. leeae appears so distinct from others that Walsh said it is highly unlikely that it is an aberration of an existing species. A DNA barcode later confirmed it as a distinct species.

Walsh said he is confident there are bound to be more. "If this thing is flying at the top of the Chiracahuas, it's probably pretty common," he said.

Finding it is another matter because moths like Lithophane tend to over-winter at higher elevations, hibernating when there is snow on the ground and flying off at the first signs of spring. Walsh said bats are the primary predators of moths, and so if the insects can make it through the winter, when bats hibernate, they will likely do well as the weather gets warmer.

As to why L. leeae hasn't been found before, Walsh theorized that his specimen simply emerged late from hibernation when it was caught. Another theory is that it could be a stray from another mountain range in the region. He said there are a number of species that fly early in the summer and are rare in collections and not often seen in most years.

"We can now add L. leeae to this group of large, but quite elusive, species," he said.

Source: University of Arizona (news : web)

Explore further: Deep sea fish eyesight similar to human vision

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Scientists work to defeat gypsy moths

Nov 16, 2006

Ecologists have found a new pattern in the gypsy moth invasion across the Northeastern United States that might be useful in battling the moths.

How to avoid a bat

Dec 18, 2006

Current understanding of the co-evolution of bats and moths has been thrown into question following new research reported today in Current Biology.

Moths mimic sounds to survive

May 31, 2007

In a night sky filled with hungry bats, good-tasting moths increase their chances of survival by mimicking the sounds of their bad-tasting cousins, according to a new Wake Forest University study.

Browntail moth's decline is documented

Oct 26, 2006

A fly introduced in 1906 to control browntail moths in the United States is now linked with the decline of several native species of butterflies and moths.

Recommended for you

Male sex organ distinguishes 30 millipede species

6 hours ago

The unique shapes of male sex organs have helped describe thirty new millipede species from the Great Western Woodlands in the Goldfields, the largest area of relatively undisturbed Mediterranean climate ...

Dogs hear our words and how we say them

Nov 26, 2014

When people hear another person talking to them, they respond not only to what is being said—those consonants and vowels strung together into words and sentences—but also to other features of that speech—the ...

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.