New species of butterfly discovered in Jamaica04/12/2012 15:46:49
Skipper butterfly in new species
University of Florida scientists have co-authored the study describing a new Lepidoptera species found in Jamaica's last remaining wilderness.
"My co-authors on this paper, Vaughn Turland and Delano Lewis, are really excited because they think this butterfly has the potential to be a new sort of flagship species for Jamaican habitat conservation, because it's a black and gold butterfly living in a green habitat, which together comprise the Jamaican national colours," said study co-author Andy Warren, senior collections manager at the McGuire Center for Lepidoptera and Biodiversity at the Florida Museum of Natural History. "Whether or not a tiny little butterfly is going to attract the type of conservation interest that the giant Homerus Swallowtail in Jamaica has remains to be seen."
Very small butterfly
Warren co-authored a study in Tropical Lepidoptera Research, a bi-annual print journal, describing Troyus turneri, which was discovered in the Cockpit Country, Jamaica's last wilderness. The first new species discovered in Jamaica in 17 years was named based on one female and one male specimen collected within a quarter mile of each another.
The fact this new genus was discovered on an island thought to be well-known, 17 years after a new species had last been described, really shows the need for biodiversity studies, said Torben Larsen, a lepidopterist who specializes in skippers.
"There aren't so many butterflies in Jamaica and for a new one to turn up, I think it was an absolutely remarkable catch," said Larsen, who is affiliated with the African Butterfly Research Institute. "It really points to the need for continued and in-depth study of the fauna of butterflies, and in general, to get all of these things caught and put in a museum at least, because they do tend to be in rather special habitats."
"We knew right away it was a new species because there's just nothing else that looks like it, but it took several months to determine that it actually should go in its own new genus," Warren said. "Of all the butterflies that are unique to Jamaica, this one is arguably the most unique - every other butterfly on the island has other congeneric species either on another island or on the mainland, but this one doesn't have any close relatives anywhere."
135th species of butterfly in Jamaica
"One of the goals of biologists is to describe the Earth's species richness before it's all gone, and of course we never know what we're going to find in any of these organisms, be it some unique chemical compound that could provide the cure for cancer or any other number of diseases," Warren said. "We don't want to lose anything that could be potentially beneficial for ourselves and for the planet."
The study appears in today Tropical Lepidoptera Research, a bi-annual print journal.