Butterflies are probably the best-loved insects. As such, they are relatively well studied, especially in the United States. Eastern parts of the country are explored most thoroughly. The earliest eastern US butterfly species were described by the father of modern taxonomy, Carl Linnaeus himself, over 250 years ago. For the last two and a half centuries, naturalists have been cataloguing the species diversity of eastern butterflies, and every nook and cranny has been searched. Some even say that we have learned everything there is to know about taxonomy of these butterflies.
The discovery of a new eastern USA butterfly species is indeed very rare nowadays. It is even more remarkable that Texas researchers discovered not just one but two new species at once. ‘It was completely unexpected’, said Dr. Grishin. ‘We were studying genetics of these butterflies and noticed something very odd. Butterflies looked indistinguishable, were flying together at the same place on the same day, but their DNA molecules were very different from each other. We thought there was some kind of mistake in our experiments.’
But there was no mistake. Segments of DNA sequences obtained from these butterflies, clustered in two groups. While wing patterns in the two groups were indeed very similar, inspection of genitalia revealed profound differences. Males and females from one cluster had larger and paler genitalia, and males and females from the other cluster possessed smaller and darker genitalia, among other numerous distinctions. It became clear that the researchers were dealing with two species, which were not even very closely related to each other, just very similar in wing patterns. The study was published in the open access journal ZooKeys.
One of these species is a well-known Carolina Satyr (Hermeuptychia sosybius), discovered two centuries ago, in 1793: a small brown butterfly, just over an inch in wingspan, with eyespots along the edge of wings. It is one of the most common eastern US butterflies and a usual denizen of shaded, wooded areas, hence the name. The other species was new. It was named the “Intricate Satyr” (Hermeuptychia intricata) for ‘the difficulty in recognizing this very distinct species and its intricate ventral wing patterns’, Cong & Grishin write. Initially discovered in Brazos Bend State Park in East Texas, Intricate Satyr is widely distributed all over eastern USA in several states, including Florida and South Carolina. One discovery leads to another. Being curious about genetic makeup of these Satyrs, Cong & Grishin decided to investigate DNA sequences and genitalia of Satyr populations from South Texas. And it immediately paid off. These populations turned out to be another new species, named “South Texas Satyr” (Hermeuptychia hermybius). Interestingly, South Texas Satyr is a close relative of Carolina Satyr, but Intricate Satyr is rather distant from either of them.
This begs a question about how many more new species of eastern butterflies remain to be discovered and currently hide behind their colourful wings? Nobody really knows, but it is clear that nothing can be further from truth than a statement that there is not much new to be learned about North American butterflies.
Qian Cong, Nick Grishin, (2014). A new Hermeuptychia (Lepidoptera, Nymphalidae, Satyrinae) is sympatric and synchronic with H. sosybius in southeast US coastal plains, while another new Hermeuptychia species – not hermes – inhabits south Texas and northeas. ZooKeys, 2014; 379: 43 DOI: 10.3897/zookeys.379.6394
Following the trend for magazine publishers to include more pages, call the result “bookazines” and charge quite a lot more money for the result, I was looking at a so-called bookazine just yesterday, in our local Barnes & Noble bookstore.
It was called “WORLD of WILDIFE — The World’s 100 Most Amazing Wildlife Encounters,” and its 162 pages contained a lot of useful ideas for anyone trying to decide where to go to enjoy some unusual or outstanding bird/animal sightings.
The main part of the magazine (I dislike the affectation of the new, bookazine name!) is split into global regions, with the number of recommended trips to each as follows:
17 to Africa
…9 to Asia
…8 to Oceania/Australia
…4 to Antarctica
10 to Europe (including 5 to Britain)
…7 to North America
…7 to Central America
…8 to South America
30 other international destinations were shown in a section devoted to the months of the year…. for example “What’s the best thing to go and see in September?”
Was it expensive for a magazine? At $15.99, yes. But is it good value? Actually, that’s also a yes, if you are hoping to plan a trip of this type at some point in the foreseeable future.
Finally, Barnes & Noble has also recently started carrying the British ‘WILD TRAVEL’ magazine each month (see cover photo, above). It’s imported status results in a price of $7.99 but the articles are excellent and come from around the world. I recommend it strongly! Check it out at: http://www.wildlifeextra.com/go/world/wild-travel/#cr
[incidentally, this isn’t in any way a paid advert for either of the above publications. I’ve posted only in case it is of interest to any of our readers — Eddie.]
You don’t have to travel in order to find good subjects for wildlife photography and competitions!
By pure chance, I found a page on a British wildlife photographer’s blog, showing his award-winning shot of what was, to him, an unusual species of dragonfly but to us in Western New York is a common species. So if — as he writes — he was only able to grab two photos of the ‘halloween pennant’ in question, imagine how much advantage we “locals” have when we can see it and photograph it up close, every summer!
Richard Peters’ photo was taken in Florida but there are certainly plenty “Halloweens” here in Erie County, and by happy coincidence one of my own shots of this species is currently the ‘feature photograph’ at the very top of the ‘Site Index and About Us‘ page on this blog.
The U.S. is one of the world’s largest markets for both legal and illegal wildlife and wildlife products….
….The strategy aims to reduce illegal trade in wildlife not only in the U.S., but around the world by focusing on three main priorities: strengthening enforcement, reducing demand for illegally traded wildlife, and expanding international cooperation and commitment….
This winter has brought some tough snow and cold conditions to much of the country. A lot of people not only quit going outside, but also quit taking photos of nature. Nature is still around in winter, and if you keep your camera from hibernating, you will find some great photo ops around you.