Nine new Emperor moth species found in Northeast

Guwahati: Not one but 11 new Emperors! They are almost like Emperors by their size. Stefan Naumann, an associate of the Museum fur Naturkunde in Berlin and Peter Smetacek of the Butterfly Research Centre at Bhimtal, Uttarakhand, have published names and descriptions for eleven Emperor moth (Saturniidae) species new to science, of which nine are from Arunachal Pradesh and Assam in Bionotes journal.

The newly-described species include two spectacular Moon Moths (Actias species), one from Arunachal Pradesh (the Mishmi Moon Moth Actias smetaceki) and one from northern Myanmar (the Shan Moon Moth Actias loeffleri).

“They have been called moon moths because each wing has a moon painted on it,” Peter Smetacek of the Butterfly Research Centre told EastMojo. Out of ten moon moth species from India, four are from Arunachal Pradesh.

He said the paper relies heavily on old collections. Although it was evident that they were new species, their naming and description were held up largely due to the lack of knowledge of where they had been recorded. Of these, three species were recently discovered in the Mishmi hills of Arunachal Pradesh, enabling the species to be properly named and described now. 

The largest moth of the 11 moths is Loepa himalayana, with a wingspan of 13.6 cm found in Arunachal Pradesh and Tibet.

Stefan has named Actias smetaceki after Peter Smetacek to express his admiration and appreciation of Peter’s continued intense engagement for interest in and knowledge of the insect fauna of the Indian subcontinent in so many different ways. 

“The nine new Indian species form a sizable portion of the family in India, which is represented by little over a hundred species now,” he said.

Emperor moths are a group of large and colourful moths belonging to the Saturniidae family. They are known for their striking appearance and are found in various parts of the world. One of the most famous species is the Atlas Moth, which has one of the largest wingspans of any moth. These moths are often prized for their beauty and are sometimes kept in captivity by entomologists and collectors.

The Saturniidae family, which includes emperor moths, is quite diverse, with numerous species distributed across different regions of the world. There are over 1,300 known species of Saturniidae moths of which 100 are from India. These species vary in size, colour, and distribution.

“At the moment nothing is known about them, except the adults, their locality and flying time,” he said.

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“The Saturniidae include commercially important species like the Eri Silk moth (Samia cynthia), muga silk moth (Antheraea assamensis), the tasar silk moth (Antheraea paphia) as well as the largest insect in the world, the Atlas Moth (Attacus atlas). None of the nine new species are record holders or commercially important, in fact, the eggs, caterpillars and pupae of all these species are still unknown. One of the species was known from a single female specimen from Digboi, Assam, but was misidentified. When its matching male was found it was possible to ascertain that this was, in fact, an undescribed species. It is named Loepa melichari after Tomas Melichar, who has made significant contributions to the study of hawkmoths (Sphingidae) in India and other countries,” he said.

Peter said these moths have limited energy and are largely inactive in the adult stage. “Females cannot fly before they are fertilised, while males only fly for half to one hour at a particular time of the night, according to species. Often this time is after midnight,” he said.

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