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New Butterfly Species Spotted in Israel for the First Time in 109 Years

May 06, 2017 09:32 AM EDT

A team of researchers from Russia has identified a new butterfly species endemic in northern Israel and the neighboring territories of Syria and Lebanon.

The new species, described in a paper published in the journal Comparative Cytogenetics, was spotted by the researchers hovering right over the slopes of Mount Hermon ski resort in northern Israel. Some experts in the field previously mistook the new butterfly species to a more common species due to the similarities of their outside appearance.

"Thousands of people had observed and many had even photographed this beautifully coloured butterfly, yet no one recognized it as a separate species," said Vladimir Lukhtanov, entomologist and evolutionary biologist at the Zoological Institute in St. Petersburg, Russia and lead investigator of the study, in a press release. "The lepidopterists (experts in butterflies and moths) had been sure that the Hermon samples belonged to the common species called Persian fritillary (Melitaea persea), because of their similar appearance, but nobody made the effort to study their internal anatomy and DNA".

Dubbed as Acentria's fritillary (Melitaea acentria), the new butterfly species have genitalia that appeared to be different from those of the typical Persian fritillary. Using an array of modern and traditional research techniques, the researchers sequenced the DNA of fritillary samples taken from Mount Hermon. They observed that the DNA of Acentria's fritillary had a unique molecular signature that is very different from the DNA of any other fritillary.

The researchers believe that Acentria's fritillary can only be found in northern Israel, Syria and Lebanon. They also noted that it is highly probable that the new butterfly species could be one of the handfuls of butterfly species that have arisen from the hybridization between two other butterfly species in the past.

Lukhtanov, together with his students, began studying Acentria's fritillary in 2012. The Acentria's fritillary is the first new butterfly species discovered and described from the territory of Israel in 109 years.

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