Rare, Black Butterfly Named For Pioneering Female Naturalist

Posted: Dec 8 2018, 4:16am CST | by , Updated: Dec 8 2018, 4:20am CST, in Latest Science News


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Rare, Black Butterfly Named for Pioneering Female Naturalist
Credit: Florida Museum photo by Kristen Grace

The new species is extremely rare and is known for only two specimens.

Centuries ago, German-born Maria Sibylla Merian sailed across the Atlantic to document the animals and plants of Dutch colony Suriname. The pioneering naturalist not only accurately portrayed the growth process of butterflies and moths but also analyzed the intimate relationship between insects and their host plants. In recognition of these efforts, scientists have named a new species of butterfly in her honor.

Catasticta sibyllae is a rare, black butterfly that belongs to Central Ameica and is only represented by two male specimens. One is stored, unidentified, in a drawer at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History since the 1980s. The other was collected in May.

"Since this is such a distinctive butterfly, we wanted to name it after someone who would deserve it," said lead author Shinichi Nakahara, a Lepidopterist at the Florida Museum of Natural History. "Merian was centuries ahead of her time, and her discoveries changed the course of entomology. The fact that she accomplished so much against all odds—as a divorced woman in the 17th century who taught herself natural history—is remarkable. And she did it so beautifully."

Merian began collecting insects in her youth. Her work was the first to illustrate complete life cycles of many species, from eggs to adults. Merian carefully recorded and depicted hundreds of species, several decades before the introduction of modern system of scientific classification.

Naming the species after Merian is a fitting tribute because she spent her lifetime understanding insects especially butterflies and sharing hes knowledge with the world.

New butterfly Catasticta sibyllae waited for identification for decades. Biologists mainly used physical characteristics such as dramatic black body with simple rows of white dots lining its wings to categorize the specimen. Ultimately, they turn to DNA sequencing, which confirmed that it was an undescribed species. No other C. sibyllae specimens were found in 14 museum collections and a long survey of the area where the second specimen was collected, suggesting the species is extremely rare.

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<a href="/latest_stories/all/all/47" rel="author">Hira Bashir</a>
The latest discoveries in science are the passion of Hira Bashir (). With years of experience, she is able to spot the most interesting new achievements of scientists around the world and cover them in easy to understand reporting.




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