Moustache helps identify butterfly

20 February 2009

A new species of butterfly from Colombia has been discovered with the help of its 'moustache'.

New butterfly species Splendeuptychia ackeryi or Magdalena Valley Ringlet

New butterfly species Splendeuptychia ackeryi or Magdalena Valley Ringlet

Natural History Museum butterfly expert, Blanca Huertas, discovered the new species while on an expedition to a remote mountain region in Colombia in 2005.

The expedition team didn’t realise the butterfly had not been named until they compared it with those in the Museum’s 3 million specimen collection.

Hairy mouthparts

The hairy mouthparts of an undescribed Museum specimen, which was around 90 years old, matched the one collected on the expedition. 

This new butterfly was identified with help from the Museum's 3 million butterfly specimens

This new butterfly was identified with help from the Museum's 3 million butterfly specimens

Using this and other characteristics, Ms Huertas was able to confirm the butterfly is a new species. It was named Splendeuptychia ackeryi, or Magdalena Valley Ringlet from the area it was found in, and was published in the scientific journal Zootaxa this month.

‘The collections here at the Natural History Museum are a treasure trove to be explored,’ says Huertas.

‘We have almost 9 million butterflies and moths in our collections; a comprehensive example of the Earth’s diversity but there are many new species still waiting to be discovered, both in museum collections and in the field!'

Butterfly diversity

Butterflies are an incredibly diverse group of insects. There are almost 20,000 known species and an amazing 40% of these are found in South America. However, there are many more species still undiscovered or not scientifically named yet.

New generation of taxonomists

Ms Huertas highlights the importance of having more people trained to study the natural world, especially the crucial job of identifying and classifying species, known as taxonomy.

‘We are working hard at the Museum to encourage a new generation of researchers to help us to complete the inventory of the planet’s biodiversity, before we lose more species unknown to science.'

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