Distinguishing features – new butterfly found because of its moustache

Press release - 02 April 2009

After nearly a century in the Natural History Museum collections, a new butterfly species has been discovered because of its moustache.

A new butterfly species from the dry Magdalena valleys of Colombia has been discovered among the three million butterfly specimens at the Natural History Museum in London by a butterfly curator. It lay undiscovered in the collection for 90 years, but only when the curator Blanca Huertas compared it with a recently found wild specimen was it identified as Splendeuptychia ackeryi, or Magdalena valley ringlet, whose distinguishing feature is unusually hairy mouthparts.

Blanca Huertas, butterfly curator at the Natural History Museum, who discovered and described the new species said, ‘The collections here at the Natural History Museum are a treasure trove to be explored. We have almost nine 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.’

Huertas discovered the new species in the wild when she travelled, with two colleagues, on an expedition to a remote mountain in Colombia in 2005. The entomologists did not realise, however, that the butterfly they had seen in Colombia had not been named and described until they returned to the UK and studied the specimens in the Museum’s collections, dating from 1920.

Huertas continues, ‘Butterflies are a diverse group of insects with almost 20,000 known species, 40 per cent of which are in South America. We are working hard at the Museum with our current exhibitions and developments such as Butterfly Jungle opening this summer and the new Darwin Centre opening in September, to encourage a new generation of researchers. They can help us complete an inventory of the planet’s biodiversity before we lose more species unknown to science.’

The description of the new butterfly is published in the latest issue of Zootaxa.

Ends

Notes for editors

  • Take a jungle journey from the dark depths of the forest floor to the heady heights of the tree canopy and experience the magic and beauty of live butterflies and other rainforest creatures in Butterfly Jungle, the Museum’s new exhibition that opens in April 2009.
  • Natural History Museum butterfly curator Blanca Huertas was recently honoured in the Latin name of new bird species the Antioquia brush-finch, Atlapetes blancae.
  • Over 200 of the Museum’s most treasured specimens, including the magnificent golden birdwing butterfly from Indonesia, are celebrated in a new lavishly illustrated book, Treasures of the Natural History Museum, published in January 2009. With intriguing stories throughout, Treasures is a fascinating insight into the best of the Museum’s unrivalled collections, including the rare, the beautiful and the unusual. It is available in bookshops for £25.
  • Winner of Visit London’s 2008 Kids Love London Best Family Fun Award, the Natural History Museum is also a world-leading science research centre. Through its collections and scientific expertise, the Museum is helping to conserve the extraordinary richness and diversity of the natural world with groundbreaking projects in 68 countries.
  • The EBA (Evaluation of Biodiversity in the Andes) and YARE (Yariguíes Assessment and
    Research of Endangered species) expeditions to the Yariguíes in 2005 were supported by the
    BP Conservation Programme, BirdLife International, Conservation International, Flora & Fauna International, Wildlife Conservation Society, Rio Tinto plc, Duke of Edinburgh, the Royal Geographical Society, Fundación ProAves and many other Colombian institutions. The results from these expeditions have been essential in the creation of a 200,000 hectare national park in the region by the Colombian government last year.
  • The name ackeryi is dedicated to Phil Ackery, the former Collection Manager of the butterfly collections at Natural History Museum.

For further information, images or to arrange an interview please contact:
Claire Gilby, Senior Press Officer, Natural History Museum
Tel: 020 7942 5106
Mobile: 07799 690 151
Email: c.gilby@nhm.ac.uk
(not for publication)