New butterfly species named after Sir David Attenborough

4 December 2015

The black-eyed satyr, Euptychia attenboroughi

Upper (left) and under (right) side of the newly described black-eyed satyr, Euptychia attenboroughi. The species has eight bright eyes spots used for scaring away predators.

A new species of tropical butterfly found in a remote region of South America has been named Euptychia attenboroughi, after naturalist Sir David Attenborough.

An international team, led by Museum entomologist Andrew Neild and Shinichi Nakahara of the University of Florida, describe two new butterfly species in the journal ZooKeys.

Euptychia attenboroughi, also known as the black-eyed satyr, lives in tropical forests of the upper Amazon basin in Venezuela, Colombia and Brazil. This remote area is not well explored by scientists, so there may well be more species awaiting discovery.

All specimens of E. attenboroughi found so far were encountered within 500 kilometres of each other, suggesting that the species may be extremely rare.

Unusual markings

The second new butterfly species identified by the team is the perhaps less-memorably-named Euptychia sophiae. Both E. attenboroughi and E. sophiae inhabit the northwest region of the upper Amazon basin, and both display unusual characteristics.

The wing shape and pattern of the new species are different from other Euptychia species, and they lack distinctive structural features previously thought to exist in every member of the group.

In fact, E. attenboroughi and E. sophiae are so unlike their relatives that the scientists initially suspected they represented an entirely new butterfly group.

'It was a surprise for us that DNA data supported inclusion of these new species in the existing genus Euptychia,' said lead author Shinichi Nakahara, 'since they lacked a distinctive structural character which was considered to be shared by all members of the genus.'

A popular namesake

The international team of researchers named the new butterfly species E. attenboroughi as a tribute to a naturalist who deeply influenced and inspired them.

'Other animals and plants have previously been dedicated to Sir David, but it makes us happy and proud to be the first to dedicate a butterfly species in his name,' said Andrew Neild.

E. attenboroughi joins a long list of species that give a nod to the famous naturalist, renowned for his nature documentaries. There are even a few genera named after Sir David - these denote a higher level of classification in the natural world, usually describing multiple species. 

As the President of Butterfly Conservation, a British charity devoted to saving butterflies, moths and their habitats, Sir David will undoubtedly take pleasure in this new namesake being added to the list.

Sir David's fascination with nature isn't limited to life on land - soon you'll be able to head underwater with him in the Museum's new virtual reality experience, David Attenborough's Great Barrier Reef Dive.

  • By Kate Hazlehurst

Lepidoptera collections

The Museum’s Lepidoptera collection contains approximately 8,712,000 specimens in 80,000 drawers.

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