Australia Pterophoridae

Nippoptilia vitis in Queensland

At present, the Australian Faunal Database lists only one species from the genus Nippoptilia (Pterophoridae: Pterophorinae: Platyptiliini) as known to occur in Australia, Nippoptilia cinctipedalis (Walker, 1864). This species was added to the Australian list by Ernst Arenberger in 2006 and is now frequently recorded by observers down the east coast of the country, from Thursday Island in Far North Queensland to Tinonee in New South Wales, as well as from Nhulunbuy in the Northern Territory.

Nippoptilia cinctipedalis is a highly distinctive member of its genus, with the first forewing lobe tapering to a point rather than showing a clear termen, and with a tawny ground colour and prominent darker brown markings on the dorsum of segments 2-3, 5 and 7 of the abdomen.

Alongside these moths, several individuals have been photographed from Nhulunbuy (NT) and Witta (QLD) that show the characteristic appearance of the remaining members of the genus, darker ground colouration, narrow forewings with a well-defined and angled termen and an overall ‘spiky’ appearance from the long tibial spurs and pointed wingtips.

Examples from Nhulunbuy:

Examples from Witta:

Two specimens were collected from Witta on 27 January 2021 for dissection, from a population feeding on a native grape vine, Cayratia clematidea (F.Muell.) Domin. Both these moths were female with genitalia matching those presented for Nippoptilia vitis (Sasaki, 1913) in the paper A taxonomic review of the genus Nippoptilia (Lepidoptera: Pterophoridae) from Korea, with description of a new species. This is based on the extraordinary lateral tufts of scales on either side of the antrum, the notched tip of the antrum and the narrow leaf-like signa on the corpus bursae.

The following are placeholder images to document the occurrence and validate the identification. I hope to provide better images once the genitalia have been properly mounted on slides.

Australia Pterophoridae

On the identity of Pterophorus tinctidactylus Newman, 1856

On 3 December 1855, Edward Newman read a paper to the Entomological Society of London on Characters of a few Australian Lepidoptera, collected by Mr. Thomas R. Oxley, subsequently published (in 1856) in the society’s Transactions (New Series, 3(8): 281-300). Oxley’s specimens were collected in Victoria, Australia, “at Forest Creek, Barker’s Creek and Campbell’s Creek, all on the Mount Alexander Range, and at a distance of about eighty miles from Melbourne.”

This paper described one new plume moth on page 300:

Genus PTEROPHORUS, Geoffroy.

Sp. 1. Pterophorus tinctidactylus, Newm.

Albus citreo-tinctus, lunula alarum pallide fusca anticarum, posticis dilute ochreo-cinereis. (Alarum dilat. ·65 unc.)

[i.e. Lemon-tinged white, with a pale fuscous crescent on the fore wings, and with hind wings slightly ochreous grey. (Wingspan 0.65 ? inches ?)]

White with a very slight tinge of lemon colour; on the fore wings is an indistinct brown mark just at the base of the cleft ; the hind wings are pale ochreous grey.

A single specimen only was taken ; it a good deal resembles P. osteodactylus, but is readily distinguished by the paler colour of the posterior wings, and by the citron-yellow — not fuscous hue — of the antennae. A second species of Pterophorus also forms part of the collection, but is so injured that I cannot venture to characterize it.

The type for tinctidactylus is apparently lost. Subsequent authors have suggested various ways to interpret Newman’s description.

Writing of Australian Pyralidina in 1885, Edward Meyrick simply wrote that he could not speak with certainty of P. tinctidactylus, Newm.

In 1994, Michael Schaffer and Ebbe S. Nielsen (in Nielsen E.S, Edwards E.D. & Rangsi T.V., Checklist of the Lepidoptera of Australia) offered a new combination, Hellinsia tinctidactylus (Newman, 1856). No explanation was offered, but this reflects Newman’s original statement that his species resembled Pterophorus osteodactylus, which is now treated as Hellinsia osteodactylus (Zeller, 1841).

In 2003, Cees Gielis (in World Catalogue of Insects Volume 4: Pterophoroidea &Alucitoidea (Lepidoptera)) tentatively (with two question marks) suggested that Newman’s species might be an alternative name for Platyptilia celidotus (Meyrick, 1884). If this proved true, Newman’s name predates Meyrick’s and would become the accepted name for the species. However, there seems no reason to suggest the identity between these species. Newman is clear that his insect is yellowish, whereas Platyptilia celidotus is a greyish to ivory-coloured insect. P. celidotus does have an streak at the base of the forewing cleft, but this is straight and angled.

There is however an Australian plume moth found in the region where Oxley collected his specimens and which fits Newman’s short description. His comparison was with Hellinsia osteodactylus, which indeed has a lemon-coloured tinge:

Hellinsia osteodactyla (Zeller, 1845) – J. Tyllinen, Copyrighted free use, via Wikimedia Commons

Imbophorus aptalis (Walker, 1864) (originally Aciptilus aptalis Walker, 1864) is a lemon-yellow coloured species with a variable crescent-shaped fuscous mark at the base of the cleft, yellow antennae, and paler hindwings than Hellinsia osteodactylus:

Imbophorus aptalis (Walker, 1864) – Specimen from Australian National Insect Collection, via Barcode of Life Database
Imbophorus aptalis (Walker, 1864) – Fresh individual, Victor W. Fazio III, via iNaturalist

The resemblance seems clear. Again, Newman’s description actually predates Walker’s description of Aciptilia aptalis and the name would have precedence, if the type were still available for confirmation.