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New Moth Species Discovered in Australia a 'Living Dinosaur'

Mar 05, 2015 06:19 PM EST
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A new moth species, Aenigmatinea glatzella, recently discovered in Australia is what scientists are calling a "living dinosaur," because its prehistoric roots can provide insight into the evolution of these insects, according to new research.

This gold-and-purple moth, with feathered wing tips, represents an entirely new family of primitive moths. It is the first time in over 40 years that a new type of primitive moth has been identified anywhere in the world.

"Our fauna is so exciting we can still find new primitive species. Australia is so rich in moths that vast numbers still remain to be discovered," researcher Ted Edwards, from Australia's Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO), said in a statement.

So far the new species, commonly called the enigma moth, has been strictly found on Kangaroo Island in South Australia, inhabiting the region's Southern Cypress-pine trees - ancient fauna going back to the supercontinent Gondwana. Perhaps once reason this 10-millimeter-long moth has remained elusive is because its days are numbered. In a single day, the adult emerges from its cocoon, mates, and then dies.

But despite its small size and short-lived life, A. glatzella is making a huge impact.

Based on a DNA analysis and simple observations of the moth's characteristics, the researchers realized that the evolution of moths and butterflies is even more complex than previously thought.

"While the discovery of this new moth strengthens the evolutionary relationships between other primitive moth families, it also suggests that tongues evolved in moths and butterflies more than once," Edwards explained.

Although this moth doesn't have a tongue, it shares many of the same features that the same species would have had millions of years ago.

If researchers hope to learn more about the evolution of moths, they are in the right place. Australia is thought to be home to about 22,000 species of moths and butterflies, of which only about half have been named.

The moth was unveiled as part of a launch of a foundation to support research into Australian moths and butterflies, and the moths and butterflies in CSIRO's Australian National Insect Collection in Canberra.

It is described further in the journal Systematic Entomology.

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