Clearwing Moths, Sensiidae, are found across much of the globe, being particularly numerous in the tropics. They lack the wing scales typical of Lepidopterans (Butterflies and Moths), instead having clear wings, combined with body-shapes and colouration resembling that of Wasps or Hornets. This is considered to be an example of Batesian Mimicry (a harmless organism evolving to resemble a harmful one) which enables the Moths to be active during daylight hours without suffering heavy predation. The larvae of Clear-winged Moths bore into wood or plant roots, with some species being considered agricultural pests.
In a paper published in the journal ZooKeys on 21 August 2017, Marta Agnieszka Skowron Volponi of the Department of Molecular Biology at the University of Gdansk and Paolo Volponi of the ClearWing Foundation for Biodiversity, describe a new species of Clearwing Moth from Pahang State in Peninsular Malaysia.
The new species is placed in the genus Pyrophleps, and given the specific name ellawi, n honour of El Law, a dedicated Malaysian Conservation activist, for his assistance with work in Malaysia. These Moths range from 9.5 to 12 mm, and are black in colour with some orange and white markings, and a silvery or bluish sheen.
Pyrophleps ellawi has a strong blue sheen in sunlight. Representatives of this species vary in the number of orange scales on the thorax. The scales form two longitudinal stripes, either dashed or solid. Skowron Volponi & Volponi (2017).
The Moths were found along sand and pebble river banks in tropical forests, close to the town of Merapoh, and in the Taman Negara National Park. They were closely associated with the Potter Moth Coeleumenes burmanicus, the two species being hard to tell apart on the ground and impossible in the air. The Moths even engaged in mud-dabbling, a behaviour associated with gathering mud to make pots by Potter Wasps (Potter Wasps are parasitiods, and seal a host animal, usually a Spider, infected with a larva, inside a pot to be consumed).
Pyrophleps ellawi puddling on a river bank. Note the curled-up hind leg tarsi. Skowron Volponi & Volponi (2017).
Skowron Volponi and Volponi note that while Clearwing Moths are known to be mimics of Wasps, most species are known only from morphological descriptions, and pinned specimens preserved in an unnatural position, with the effect that the full extent of their mimicry, which includes adopting the posture and behaviour of the mimicked species. To this end they have produced a video of the Moth in the wild which can be seen here.
Male specimen of Pyrophleps ellawi. Pinned for museum preservation, which enables inspection of the anatomy of delicate specimens, but does not preserve the posture of the living animal. Skowron Volponi & Volponi (2017).
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