Araba Bioscan

Araba Bioscan 30 October to 6 November 2020

This was a cold week and very wet. On 1 November, no point in the whole 24-hour period was as warm as midnight at the start.

The moths captured included several of the small oecophorid Hoplostega ochroma (Meyrick, 1886), as well as the first record for the site of Philobota cretacea Meyrick, 1884. This latter species had not been recorded from light trapping at the site.

Thanks to Frans for the springtail identification, Boris Büche on iNaturalist for the Aderidae identification, Nigel Main on iNaturalist for the ant genus identifications, and tonyd on iNaturalist for multiple fly identifications.

The collecting medium was 95% isopropyl alcohol.


Memes and phenotypes: Re-evaluating the role of taxonomy

A contribution to Dawkins studies

I’m not going to waste time putting this somewhere else, so I thought I might as well put it here …

Taxonomy is normally positioned as a long-running international research effort to recognise and delimit unique evolutionary lineages, describe and name these as species, and organise species within a hierarchical framework of higher taxa. Scientific names are accordingly seen as tools to facilitate human understanding, use and management of biodiversity. However, evolutionary biology reveals the inadequacy of this reductive and overly anthropocentric perspective. Scientific names are better understood as part of the extended phenotype (Dawkins, 1982) of many biological organisms, serving as avatars for collectives of these organisms to form and manipulate symbioses with Homo sapiens. These symbioses are mediated through the ability of these organisms to establish and control memes (Dawkins, 1976) that infect and penetrate human culture. Scientific names are the binding points that allow these memes to become established.

The process by which scientific names infect human consciousness is not dissimilar to mechanisms used by many parasitic organisms to infect their hosts. Scientific names are established when organisms successfully attract the attention of a susceptible and suitable human host. Most humans have some initial susceptibility, provided that the organisms are able to stimulate sufficient interest to become memorable to the infected individual. However, only a small subset of potential hosts is suitable as a vehicle for wider transmission of this interest. Taxonomists serve as the primary hosts that are suitable for transmitting the infection more widely through their activity in publishing species treatments and scientific names. A broader subset of humans, including naturalists and nature lovers, may serve as intermediate hosts that transmit interest in unrecognised organisms to a suitable taxonomist. The infection becomes established as a published scientific name is adopted and reused within the scientific community. In some cases, the infection reaches epidemic levels when the wider human population develops an interest in the species. Modern social media serve as the leading pathway for global infection.

The relationship between any scientific name and an evolutionary lineage is more or less coincidental. Multiple and even unrelated lineages may share characteristics that hamper human recognition and discrimination. This allows such organisms to form mimicry rings that may never or only belatedly be recognised as swarms of cryptic species. Over time, advances in human technology and scientific method have disrupted many of these mimicry rings, effectively modifying the environment within which organisms must maintain the memes associated with their scientific names. This changing environment drives evolution in the membership of the organism collectives that taxonomists recognise as species. This evolution has an epiphenomenal presentation to human observers as a proliferation of species concepts associated with each scientific name.

Scientific names vary in their efficiency and infectiousness as tools for meme propagation. Factors such as euphony and memorability (including the familiarity of name elements to humans) may affect the wider transmission and persistence of a name within the consciousness of the community. 

As part of the extended phenotype of the associated organisms, scientific names support a vast network of symbioses between the world’s species and the human race. Most significantly, the memes tied to each scientific name may increase the reproductive fitness of a species by promoting and facilitating its trade and cultivation by humans, for example via the pet and aquarium trade and in the context of agriculture, horticulture and animal husbandry. In some cases, these memes can trigger the activation of human defence mechanisms, as for example when species are included in lists of undesirable pest or invasive organisms. However, some species may be successful in exploiting memes associated with their scientific names to avert human predation or exploitation (a form of aposematism) and even to elicit heightened human social responses (homologous to brood parasitism) and secure potentially significant assistance in the form of conservation or cultivation.

Some observers (e.g. Garnett and Christidis, 2017) have noted that certain organisms are disproportionately effective in propagating favourable memes and exploiting human responses. Those organisms that appear most charismatic to humans are most successful in parasitising human energy to support their conservation. In extreme cases, the heightened stimuli that these organism collectives present to taxonomists and the wider public trigger the splitting of an existing named collective into multiple named species. Each additional scientific name serves as a new avatar for the organisms to secure additional support and funding. Garnett and Christidis are concerned that such organisms have gamed human interest to a disproportionate extent and divert global resources from other species or components of the environment.

We should recognise that some scientific names are “sock puppets” that serve to deceive humans and subvert the perceived goals of the taxonomic community, conservation organisations and other stakeholders. Better governance mechanisms are required to inoculate the taxonomic community against super-charismatic taxa and protect the wider community from exploitation by these organisms.


Parental investment and edited volumes

A random piece I found I wrote back in 2009 …

A few years ago I picked up a few volumes from the Oxford Series in Ecology and Evolution in a book sale. One of these was The Evolution of Sibling Rivalry by Douglas W. Mock and Geoffrey A. Parker. (Another excellent volume was Biological Invasions: Theory and Practice by Nanako Shigesada and Kohkichi Kawasaki – even if the title suggests a how-to manual for bioterrorists.)

Mock and Parker cover their subject in great detail and in a highly readable fashion. One area in particular struck me as having wider application. One of the conclusions summarised in chapter 10 reads:

Where PI (parental investment) is contributed by both parents, most taxa should exhibit ‘sexual conflict’ over how much each contributes. ESS (evolutionary stable strategy) models of biparental care make the paradoxical prediction of less PI per offspring than under uniparental care (or an idealized ‘true monogamy’, wherein partners mate for life). In a biparental situation, if one mate unilaterally lowers its share of the load, its partner should compensate partially (thereby buffering the offspring from the full force of the uniparental deprivation), but not fully (i.e. not so as to make up for the total cut-back), unless there is true monogamy. The implications for sibling rivalry are clear. Selfish games between the care-givers can shrink the ‘cake’ on which the offspring depend, thereby accentuating their own incentives for selfishness. Some recent field studies of European songbirds provide some support for these and related predictions.

The Evolution of Sibling Rivalry, p.231

This seems to apply very nicely to my experience in reading a range of volumes from individual authors (or small numbers of co-authors) and comparing them with edited volumes each with many authors. In nearly all cases, the overall quality of a book and the benefit derived from reading it (and often more mundane aspects such as the quality of the proof-reading) seems proportional to the number of authors. Of course there are likely to be several contributing factors. A single author has the ability to develop arguments and draw connections between different topics in ways which are much harder for multiple authors. Nevertheless I suspect that authors arrive at a very similar stable strategy to that realised by European songbirds. To rephrase one of the sentences above:

In a multi-author situation, if one author unilaterally lowers its share of the load, the co-authors should compensate partially (thereby buffering the volume from the full force of the author’s dereliction), but not fully (i.e. not so as to make up for the total cut-back), unless there is a (stable, long-term) partnership between the authors.

Certainly not an earth-shattering insight, but one that is, I am sure, applicable in many areas of work and life.

Araba Bioscan

Araba Bioscan 23-30 October 2020

This was the first week of sampling in the Araba Bioscan Project, using 95% isopropyl alcohol as the collecting medium. A sensor for temperature and humidity was attached to the Malaise trap part way through the week, along with a soil moisture sensor immediately under the trap. Barometric pressure is measured about 10 m away and other environmental measurements will be collected in subsequent weeks.

Spring has been wet here in Canberra, following a number of years of low rainfall. The surrounding woodland is currently full of flowers, including very large numbers of tiger orchids (Diuris sulphurea R.Br.).

The Malaise sample included a surprising number (to me, at least) of springtails (Collembola).

The only neuropteran species captured was the common brown lacewing (Hemerobiidae) Micromus tasmaniae (Walker, 1860). All four individuals of this species are illustrated below.

Thanks to tony_d on iNaturalist for the identification of Sphenella ruficeps (Macquart, 1851) and other flies.


Agdistopis griveaudi Gibeaux, 1994

This post is a contribution to assist with comparison of the known species in the genus Agdistopis Hampson, 1917 (Lepidoptera: Macropiratidae).

In 1994, Christian Gibeaux published Faune de Madagascar, 81: Insectes Lépidoptères Pterophoridae, in which he described the first Afrotropical Macropiratidae species from a single specimen collected in Madagascar in 1961.

Gibeaux treated the macropiratids as a subfamily (Macropiratinae) within the Pterophoridae. His key distinguishes the subfamily as having 1) “ailes antérieures et postérieures entières” (all wings undivided) and 2) “revers de l’aile postérieure sans [une double rangée d’écailles modifiées sur le lobe médian]” (without a double series of modified scales on the middle lobe of the hind wing).

His treatment is as follows:


Petite sous-famille ne comportant que deux taxa connus, le troisième appartenant à la faune malgache, est décrit ici.

Gibeaux, C. (1994). Faune de Magascar 81: Insectes Lépidoptères Pterophoridae 10

Agdistopis Hampson

Agdistopis Hampson, 1917 : 43 (espèce type du genre : Agdistopis petrochroa Hampson, 1917 : 44, de Formose, désigné par l’auteur, un synonyme d’Agdistis sinhala Fletcher, 1909 : 8, décrit de Ceylan).

Description. — Palpes labiaux porrigés, d’une longueur égale à deux fois le diamètre de la tête, élargis à leur base par des écailles : palpes maxillaires présents, mais petits ; éperons tibiaux courts : 0, 2, 4.

Aile antérieure avec Sc libre, R tigées (R2 absente), R4 à l’apex, M1 libre, M2 et M3 tigées, Cu1 et Cu2 libres, CuP présente, pas de boucle anale.

Aile postérieure avec Sc+R atteignant l’apex, une branche de M absente, CuP faible, deux anales.

Genitalia ♂ (d’après Inoué) avec le pénis sans caecum ventral, saccus présent, valve amplement bilobée, pas d’uncus proéminent.

Genitalia ♀ aves les apophyses postérieures et antérieures présentes, l’antrum couvert de spinules, le ductus bursae long, la bursa peu individualisée par rapport au ductus, ne portant aucun signum.

Répartition géographique. — Ceylan, Formose, Sud du Japon, îles Fidji et Madagascar.

Commentaire. — La famille des Macropiratidae a été créée , ainsi que le nouveau genre Macropiratis, pour deux nouvelles espèces par Meyrick (1932 : 248-249), la première des Fidji, la seconde de Ceylan. Whalley (1964 : 592) a montré (a) que Macropiratis Meyrick (1932) était un synonyme d’Agdistopis Hampson (1917) décrit comme Pyralidae Galleriinae et (b) que le genre d’Hampson était plus à sa place parmi les Pterophoridae. Minet (1991 : 85 et 87) a confirmé cette opinion, mais en créant une sous-famille spéciale, celle des Macropiratinae, qu’il considère comme la plus primitive des Pterophoridae. L’avis de Minet sera suivi ici, bien que, d’après les spécialistes de Pterophoridae, il conviendrait de rétablir la famille des Macropiratidae.

Gibeaux, C. (1994). Faune de Magascar 81: Insectes Lépidoptères Pterophoridae 10

Agdistopis griveaudi n. sp. (fig. 23)

Agdistopis griveaudi holotype
Agdistopis griveaudi holotype (Gibeaux, 1994, fig. 23)

Type. — Holotype : 1 ♀, Madagascar Centre, S. d’Ambohimahasoa, forêt de Tsarafidy [canton de Tsarafidy, forêt d’Ankafina], 1 450 m, I-1961 (P. Griveaud) (genitalia, prép. Chr. Gibeaux no 4822) (MNHN).

Description. — Envergure : 23 mm ; longueur de la côte des ailes antérieures : 11 mm.

♂. — Il m’est inconnu.

♀. — Antennes brisées, les segments subsistants sont gris-brun. Palpes labiaux (fig. 1) gris-beige, porrigées. Tête grise, avec une bande mediane brune. Thorax et ptérygodes gris-brun. Dessus de l’abdomen gris-brun, avec les sixième et septième tergites plus foncés, latéralement brun foncé, et la partie postérieure de chaque tergite gris perle. Dessous de lábdomen avec la moitié basale brun foncé, ensuite brunâtre. Pattes pro- et mésothoraciques brisées, les fémurs droits subsistants sont beiges. Pattes métathoraciques beige brilant de reflets dorés, ombrées de brunâtre aux articulations, les deux paires d’éperons très courts. Dessous du thorax beige.

Aile antérieure brune, avec : la moitié longitudinale supérieure blanchâtre jusqu’à la cellule, ombrée de brunâtre dans celle-ci ; une ligne transversale oblique antémarginale, la marge, les nervures et une ligne virguliforme au milieu du bord interne du même blanchâtre ; après la cellule, délimitant la zone blanchâtre, une ligne oblique brune, partant de la côte jusqu’à la base du disque ; l’aire marginale, entre la ligne transversale oblique blanchâtre et les franges, brune transversée par les nervures blanchâtres. Franges costales, avant l’apex, blanchâtres ; franges d bord externe composées de deux rangées d’écailles, la première, de moitié plus courte que la seconde, est brun doré, plus clair à la base, la second est brunâtre, également plus claire à la base. Dessous de l’aile marron foncé, aves les dessins blanchâtres transparaissant légèrement.

Aile postérieure marron doré, ainsi que les franges, mais celles-ci paraissent, sous un certain angle, grisâtres. Dessous de l’aile de même couleur que le dessous des ailes antérieures.

Gibeaux, C. (1994). Faune de Magascar 81: Insectes Lépidoptères Pterophoridae 10-12
Agdistopis griveaudi female genitalia
Agdistopis griveaudi female genitalia (Gibeaux, 1994, figs. 96-98)

Genitalia (fig. 96) aves les papilles anales peu marquées, les apophyses postérieures et antérieures assez longues et fines, l’antrum (fig. 98) presque rectangulaire, recouvert de spinules, l’ostium bursae (fig. 97) long, le ductus bursae très long, la bursa peu individulisée par rapport au ductus, ne portant aucun signum, le ductus seminalis émergeant peu après l’ostium.

Distribution. — On ne connait que la localité de l’holotype.

Biologie. — Premiers états inconnus. Espèce se trouvant dans les formations botanique particulières du Domaine du Centre situées au Sud d’Ambohimahasoa.

Répartition géographique. — Madagascar, où l’espèce nést actuellement connue que la région du Centre.

Gibeaux, C. (1994). Faune de Magascar 81: Insectes Lépidoptères Pterophoridae 10-12

Macropiratidae Meyrick, 1932

This post is to make the text available for Edward Meyrick’s original description of the moth family Macropiratidae and its monotypic genus Macropiratis (now synonymised with Agdistopis Hampson, 1917). This family and genus, along with two species descriptions (Macropiratis halieutica n. sp. and Macropiratis heteromantis n. sp.) appear on pages 248-249 of the fourth volume of Meyrick’s Exotic Microlepidoptera, which unfortunately remains unavailable online.

The text reads as follows:



Face oblique or vertical, scales projecting roughly at lower edge; ocelli posterior, distinct; tongue absent. Antennae under ½, ♂ flat-dentate, ciliated, scape short. Labial palpi straight, porrected, with appressed scales, differing specifically. Maxillary palpi imperceptible. Posterior tibiae very long, slender, smooth outer middle spurs ¾ of inner. Abdomen very long and slender. Forewings 2 from ⅔-¾, 3 from near angle, 4 and 5 stalked, 6 from near 9, 7 and 8 out of 9, 10 apparently absent, 11 nearly approximated to 9. Hindwings 1¼, cubital pecten strong and well-developed; 2 from ¾, 3 and 4 short-stalked from angle, 5 obsolete, apparently represented by an imperfect medial fold, 6 and 7 stalked from angle, 8 apparently absent, absorbed throughout in 7.

Type halieutica Meyr. This singular genus presents an exceptional combination of characters which excludes it from all established families of Pyralidina, and I am therefore obliged to form a new family for it. The insects have the aspect of an entire-winged Pterophorid, but do not possess the cubital series of spinules on the lower surface of hindwings invariably characteristic of that family, and are otherwise anomalous; the apparent absence of maxillary palpi is however a point of resemblance, and there is probably a real relationship.

Meyrick, Edward (1932). Exotic Microlepidoptera 4: 248

Macropiratis halieutica, n. sp.

♂. 29 mm. Head light fuscous, face oblique. Palpi fuscous, very long (4), cylindrical, somewhat thickened and slightly roughened above towards base, terminal joint short, obtuse. Antennal ciliations short. Thorax light fuscous mixed whitish. Forewings very elongate, very narrow at base, gradually dilated, costa moderately arched near apex, termen slightly rounded, oblique; 2 from ¾; fuscous; costal half whitish-ochreous from base to about ⅘, and neuration sharply marked by white lines along veins 2-8; some dark reddish-brown suffusion beyond this pale area, and on its lower edge in middle of disc; an oblique white streak from apex curved donwards towards tornus but becoming obsolete between veins 4 and 5; a white terminal line preceded by some darker suffusion: cilia brownish becoming whitish towards tops, and with a white bar at apex. Hindwings grey; cilia light grey.

FIJI, Lautoka, November (H. Phillips); 1 ex. (Brit. Mus.).

Meyrick, Edward (1932). Exotic Microlepidoptera 4: 249

Macropiratis heteromantis, n.sp.

♂. 30 mm. Differs from halieutica only as follows: face vertical; palpi moderate (1½), scales tolerably pointed, terminal joint concealed; antennal ciliations over 1; forewings 2 from ⅔, costal half light brownish-ochreous, dorsal half and terminal area dark fuscous, whitish neural lines and oblique white apical streak as in halieutica; hindwings rather dark grey.

CEYLON, Kalutara, July (F. Mackwood); 1 ex. The singular differences, especially in the shape of head and development of palpi, between these two superficially very similar insects are apparently natural, but further material for investigation is very desirable.

Meyrick, Edward (1932). Exotic Microlepidoptera 4: 249
Alucitidae Pterophoridae Species Lists

Phalaena Alucita Linnaeus, 1758

Binomial nomenclature for animals begins with the 10th edition of Linnaeus Systema Naturae. On page 343 of this volume, Linnaeus divided all Lepidoptera into three genera:

  • Papilio – Butterflies
  • Sphinx – Hawkmoths
  • Phalaena – All other moths

He further divided Phalaena into seven subgroups:

  • Phalaena Bombyx – Various bombycoid, noctuoid and cossid moths
  • Phalaena Noctua – Various noctuoid, cossid and hepialid moths
  • Phalaena Geometra – Mostly geometrid moths
  • Phalaena Tortix – Mostly torticid moths
  • Phalaena Pyralis – Various pyraloid and noctuoid moths
  • Phalaena Tinea – Various smaller Lepidoptera
  • Phalaena Alucita – Six moths with divided wings

The species under Phalaena Alucita were presented as a series running from monodactyla, i.e. “one-fingered”, through to hexadactyla, i.e. “six-fingered”. Unfortunately, as with most other genera proposed in 1758, these six do not form a good clade. The first five fall within the modern Pterophoridae and last within the family currently known as Alucitidae.

As a result, until well into the last century, different taxonomists used a mixture of the following names and typification schemes.

Current PterophoridaeCurrent Alucitidae
A. monodactyla
O. hexadactyla
P. pentadactyla 
(or P. monodactyla)
O. hexadactyla
P. pentadactyla 
(or P. monodactyla)
A. hexadactyla

In 1964, ICZN Opinion 703 settled on the final arrangement, but large numbers of Pterophoridae (particularly species in the tribe Pterophorini) were originally named in Alucita. More than 100 species in today’s Alucita were originally described in Orneodes.

Alucitidae Species Lists

Many-plume Moths

The many-plume moths (Lepidoptera: Alucitidae) are a small family of insects found on all continents. Most species can easily be recognised since each of their wings is completely divided into a number of fine feathery spines (typically six per wing).

Formerly, the Tineodidae or false plume moths were placed alongside Alucitidae in the superfamily Alucitoidea. However, recent research has shown that the many-plume moths (Heikkilä et al. 2015) fall within the false plume moths. As a result, these two groups are now considered a single family: Alucitidae Leach, 1815. No other groups are currently placed within Aluctoidea.

Although they share the characteristic of divided wings, the plume moths (Lepidoptera: Pterophoridae) evolved separately.

In 2003, Cees Gielis from Naturalis published a catalogue of described species in all these groups (Gielis 2003, Pterophoroidea & Alucitoidea (Lepidoptera) – In: World Catalogue of Insects 4). Cees maintained the digital version of this text, particularly for changes in species and names of Pterophoridae. In 2018, I helped to extract the names and synonymy for 1,463 Pterophoridae species from this document for inclusion within the Catalogue of Life.

Over the last few months, I’ve turned my attention to the section of the catalogue dealing with Alucitoidea, incorporating species described since 2003 and updating synonymy where applicable. Tineodidae are now treated as part of an expanded Alucitidae. In the absence of comprehensive analysis of phylogenetic relationships, there is no support for any organisation of the genera into subfamilies and tribes.

The updated catalogue contains 246 species in 20 genera.