Sunday 20 December 2015

Micropterix gaudiella: A new species of Micropterigid Moth from the Italian Alps.

The Micropterigidae are considered to be the most primitive family of living Lepidoptera (Butterflies and Moths), retaining a number of archaic traits, such as functioning mandibles as adults (which are used to consume pollen) and full venation of the hind wings. They have a fossil record going back to the Jurassic, but are still abundant today, with around 20 extant genera and several hundred species. They are small moths, generally under 15 mm, and often have bright metallic colouration. 

In a paper published in the journal Nota Lepidopterologica on 22 October 2015, Hans Christof Zeller of Thalgau in Austria and Peter Huemer of the Tiroler Landesmuseen, describe a new species of Micropterigid Moth from Mount Pizzo Arero in the Orobian Alps of northern Italy.

The new species is placed in the widespread genera Micropterix, which is found from Europe and North Africa eastwards to Japan, and given the specific name 'gaudiella' meaning 'happiness', in reference to the pleasure felt at discovering a new species of Moth in Europe, an unusual event. The species is described from a number of specimens found feeding on wild roses alongside members of the closely related Micropterix aruncella, the two species being distinguished by the plain gold colouration of Micropterix aruncella while Micropterix gaudiella is a similar gold colour but with three distinctive purple bands on its wings. A genetic analysis confirmed that this was a separate specues rather than a colour variant of Micropterix aruncella.

 Specimen of Micropterix gaudiella resting on a Rose petal. Zeller & Huemer (2015).

The life history of Micropterix gaudiella is largely unknown. Adult specimens were found in a single area on Mount Pizzo Arero at an altitude of about 1600 m. The Moths were originally found feeding on Rose pollen alongside Micropterix aruncella in montane Beech Forest in late June to mid July, and were subsequently found on Helianthemum flowers in a nearby meadow.

 Specimens of Micropterix gaudiella and Micropterix aruncella feeding on the same flower. Zeller & Huemer (2015).

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