Arakan forest turtle seen in the wild

Young Arakan forest turtle

From LiveScience:

Scientists See Rare Turtle for First Time in the Wild

By LiveScience Staff

posted: 04 September 2009 04:04 pm ET

Known only by museum specimens and a few captive individuals, one of the world’s rarest turtle species – the Arakan forest turtle – has been observed for the first time in the wild.

A Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) team discovered five of the critically endangered turtles in a wildlife sanctuary in Myanmar (Burma) in Southeast Asia. The sanctuary, originally established to protect elephants, contains thick stands of impenetrable bamboo forests and is rarely visited by people according to the report.

The adult turtles measure less than a foot in length; its shell is light brown with some black mottling. The species was believed extinct until 1994, when conservationists found a few specimens in a food market in China. Before then, the last know record of the species was of a single animal collected by a British Army officer in 1908. Many Asian turtle species have been driven to near extinction due to their demand as food.

The WCS team also found yellow tortoises and Asian leaf turtles in the sanctuary – two other species threatened by the illegal wildlife trade.


64 new moth species discovered

Erbessa thiaucourti

From Wildlife Extra:

Major study of day-flying moths finds 64 new species & 7 new genera

03/09/2009 11:52:54

Hundreds of specimens in museums and collections prove new to science

Re-examining parallel evolution in diurnal neotropical moths

September 2009. Travellers to the tropical lands of the Americas might be forgiven for mistaking many of the colourful insects flittering over sunny puddles or among dense forest understory are butterflies. In fact, many are moths that have reinvented themselves as butterflies, converging on the daytime niche typically dominated by their less hairy relatives. Now, a new revision of the taxonomic relationships among one such group of insects, the subfamily Dioptinae, sheds light on the diversity of tropical moth species and presents a unique story of parallel evolution.

Diurnal moths

“These diurnal moths are a microcosm of butterfly evolution,” says James Miller, author of the new Bulletin of the American Museum of Natural History and a research associate in the Division of Invertebrate Zoology at the Museum. “There are about 500 spectacular dioptine species, all of which evolved from a common ancestor-a nondescript brown nocturnal moth-into a diversity of butterfly mimics.” Miller qualifies this with a technicality, though, noting that no one is sure whether butterflies or diurnal moths evolved their colours first (and who is really mimicking whom).

Wing patterns

The wing pattern diversity within the subfamily is enormous: some species mimic clear-winged butterflies and inhabit the darker parts of the forest understory where their co-mimics fly. The caterpillars of these species feed on palms. Still others have wings that are coloured blue and yellow and feed on melastomes. About 100 species feed on Passiflora, the poisonous passion flowers famous for being consumed by the caterpillars of Heliconious [sic; Heliconius] butterflies. In fact, although most of the Dioptinae are diurnal, or fly during the day, a few species like those in Xenomigia have re-conquered the night. Although most dioptines are neotropical, ranging from lowland jungles to cloud forests at 4,000 metres in the Andes, Phryganidia californica occurs in the western United States.

Batesian mimicry

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-coloured but poisonous butterflies that derive their toxicity from the plants their caterpillars feed on. This system-whereby a harmless species gains protection from its resemblance to a toxic species-is now known as Batesian mimicry.

64 new species discovered in drawers – Hundreds more waiting discovery

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 Río Chalpi Grande, Ecuador; Erbessa albilinea and Getta tica from Braulio Carrillo, Costa Rica; Phintia broweri from Tambopata, Peru, and Erbessa lamasi from the remote Cosñipata Valley of south-eastern 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.

Six times more insect species in tropical mountains than predicted: How many species of insects exist? Here.

September 2009. Thousands of people participating in this year’s National Moth Night over the coming nights of 18-19 September are being asked to look out for moths that have been specially marked at sites across Britain and Ireland. It’s part of a nationwide experiment to study the flight routes of moths: here.

Scoliopteryx libatrix moths: here.

Britain: Butterflies less choosy when the weather is warm: here.

A contentious paper suggesting that butterflies and caterpillars descended from different ancestors has been rebutted in the same journal in which the original, controversial research appeared: here.

Hairy northern wood ants in Britain: here.