Fiery, high-flying Icarus moth finally confirmed as new species
In Greek myth, Icarus was the high-flying son of Daedalus who, due to his own arrogance, flew too close to the sun, melting the wax in his wings and bringing him calamitously down to a watery grave. Now his name has been given to a newly-discovered moth, Admetovis icarus, thanks to its fiery markings and partiality to high altitudes (as opposed to a tendency for hubris or maritime catastrophe).
The new discovery belongs in the family Noctuidae, also known as owlet moths, usually known for their rather lackluster wings and spherical eggs. Though the moth's wings are undeniably brown, they do exhibit a distinctive coloring towards the edges, resembling parched paper.
The species was first discovered in the town of Nederland in Colorado, USA at an altitude of 2,896 m (9,500 ft) but has since been observed in neighboring Utah and farther north-west in Oregon and the Selkirk Mountains in the southeast of British Columbia in Canada's west. Sightings tend to occur at night between June and August in forests near to the tree line, the highest elevation at which trees grow in a given habitat.
Such is the difficulty in identifying moths, it seems the species has been collected numerous times before its identification as a new species, mistakenly being ascribed to the species Admetovis oxymorus, which shows similar markings and which also inhabits the Pacific Northwest. However, they can be distinguished by the darker flame marks and darker hues of the hindwing in A. icarus. Classification is something of a thorny issue in the Noctuidae family, with several subfamilies having been reclassified in the family Erebidae.
The team's paper has been published in the open access journal ZooKeys and can be read in full online. It forms part of the seventh and latest volume in the series Contributions to the Systematics of New World macro-moths.
"Finding undiscovered moths is not that unusual, even though scientists have been naming insects since the eighteenth century," lead author Dr Lars Crabo of Washington State University explains in a press release.
"The Contributions series […] really encourages professional and citizen scientists alike to go through the steps necessary to properly name the species that they have discovered," Crabo adds. "This series of seven volumes also includes a new check list for the United States and Canada, which has led to a re-kindling of interest in moths during the last decade."
Dr. Christian Schmidt of Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada also contributed to the study.