The fluttering beauty of butterflies captures the imagination of poets and scientists alike, making them one of the most studied insects. Yet the recent discovery of two new species reminds us that there's still much we don't know about butterflies.
Nick Grishin and Qian Cong discovered the new species while studying the genetics of the Carolina Satyr (Hermeuptychia sosybius), a small brown butterfly common in the Eastern United States. The "butterflies looked indistinguishable, were flying together at the same place on the same day, but their DNA molecules were very different from each other," Grishin said in a statement. "We thought there was some kind of mistake in our experiments."
In addition to discovering important differences in the butterflies' DNA, they also soon discovered differentiating features in the butterflies' genitalia. Analysis revealed two new species: the Intricate Satyr (Hermeuptychia intricata) and the South Texas Satyr (Hermeuptychia hermybius). Genetic sequencing shows that the South Texas Satyr and Carolina Satyr are closely related, but that the Intricate Satyr is a more distant relative. This relationship is illustrated in the evolutionary tree below.
Grishin and Cong's findings are published in the open access journal ZooKeys. "We were not able to find reliable wing pattern characters to tell a difference between the two species," they write. "This superficial similarity may explain why H. intricata, only distantly related to H. sosybius, has remained unnoticed until now, despite being widely distributed in the coastal plains from South Carolina to Texas."