16 January 2013

Moth research at the Natural History Museum

Last September I found and photographed a Bombycidae (silkworm) moth at REGUA in Brazil's Atlantic Forest (see here) that, despite a thorough review of images on the net, and a check of specimens at Rio's National Museum of Brazil by one of the museum's entomologists, Alexandra Soares, has so far eluded identification. So today, after a quick twitch for the Hyde Park Bearded Tits, Pete Alfrey and I visited the entomology department at the Natural History Museum in London to study the collection there.

I'd narrowed the identity to the Apatelodes genus, and the closest species I'd found was Apatelodes lapitha that has some features that don't match. After checking several draws we eventually we found a species that is a very close match - Apatelodes pithala. However, the three specimens of this species the museum holds do not show the oval mark on the upper forewings of my moth, but instead four parallel cross-lines. All the other features do match so the oval mark could be an aberration?

Specimen draw Ma15241 containing what we think is my moth - Apatelodes
(the three specimens in the furthest column)

The museums only three specimens of Apatelodes pithala.

Apatelodes pithala specimen ventral view

Apatelodes sp. This pic shows the key features of my moth and which of these
are present on the specimens of Apatelodes pithala

Pete doing all the hard graft while I play around with the camera

Modern day storage of entomological specimens

Inside the Cocoon at the Darwin Centre. A colossal 12 million entomological
specimens are housed here!

This isn't quite the end of the story though. I need to compare my moth with photos of the type specimen and make sure that the oval shape on the forewings are within the variation found within this species. Furthermore, all three of the museum's specimens are from northern South America so I need to check if other specimens have been collected from south-east Brazil.

Many thanks to Martin Honey, curator of Macromoths & British Lepidoptera at the Natural History Museum, for arranging our visit and for helping with our research, and also to my good mate Pete Alfrey for all his help. More on today on Pete's blog.

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