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Moths cloaked in color
Date:8/31/2009

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The Dioptinae were first recognized as a distinct insect group in 1862 by Francis Walker of the British Museum of Natural History. At the same time, they were pivotal to the writings of Henry Walter Bates after he returned from a decade of exploration and collecting in the Amazon. Bates described moths that fly with and obtain protection from similarly-colored but poisonous butterflies that derive their toxicity from the plants their caterpillars feed on. This systemwhereby a harmless species gains protection from its resemblance to a toxic speciesis now known as Batesian mimicry.

Miller's new revision of the Dioptinae is the first systematic look at this group in almost a century. After studying over 16,700 specimens housed at 38 different institutions and private collections around the world, Miller discovered and described 64 new species and seven new genera, bringing the total to 456 species in 43 genera. Some of the new species were found during field work in parts of the tropical Americas poorly explored by lepidopterists: Xenomigia pinasi from Ro Chalpi Grande, Ecuador; Erbessa albilinea and Getta tica from Braulio Carrillo, Costa Rica; Phintia broweri from Tambopata, Peru, and Erbessa lamasi from the remote Cosipata Valley of southeastern Peru. Even so, there is much more work to be done on the Dioptinae. Miller estimates that there are about 100 to 150 species in collections that still need to be described and inserted into the taxonomy, and he thinks that additional fieldwork in under-sampled countries like Bolivia and Colombia will ultimately bring the total number of species to between 700 and 800.

Miller's first step in shedding light on the Dioptinae was to develop an evolutionary tree, or phylogeny. This tree is based on adult morphology of the moths: using 305 characters among 115 of the species (representing all 43 genera), Miller determined that the group was divided into two tri
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Contact: Kristin Elise Phillips
kphillips@amnh.org
212-496-3419
American Museum of Natural History
Source:Eurekalert  

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