Insect taxonomy can be difficult: A noctuid moth (Agaristinae: Aletopus imperialis) and a geometrid moth (Sterrhinae: Cartaletis dargei) combined into a cryptic species complex in eastern Africa (Lepidoptera)

Pasi Sihvonen, Leidys Murillo-Ramos, Niklas Wahlberg, Axel Hausmann, Alberto Zilli, Michael Ochse, Hermann S. Staude

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

The systematic position of a large and strikingly coloured reddish-black moth, Cartaletis dargei Herbulot, 2003 (Geometridae: Sterrhinae) from Tanzania, has remained questionable since its description. Here we present molecular and morphological evidence showing that Cartaletis dargei only superficially resembles true Cartaletis Warren, 1894 (the relative name currently considered a junior synonym of Aletis Hübner, 1820), which are unpalatable diurnal moths superficially resembling butterflies, and that it is misplaced in the family Geometridae. We transfer it to Noctuidae: Agaristinae, and combine it with the genus Aletopus Jordan, 1926, from Tanzania, as Aletopus dargei (Herbulot, 2003) (new combination). We revise the genus Aletopus to contain three species, but find that it is a cryptic species complex that needs to be revised with more extensive taxon sampling. Our results demonstrate the difficulties in interpreting and classifying biological diversity. We discuss the problems in species delimitation and the potential drivers of evolution in eastern Africa that led to phenotypic similarity in unrelated lepidopteran lineages.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere11613
JournalPeerJ
Volume9
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2021

Subject classification (UKÄ)

  • Biological Systematics

Free keywords

  • Agaristinae
  • Biodiversity
  • Cryptic species
  • Geometridae
  • Molecular
  • Morphology
  • Noctuidae
  • Sterrhinae
  • Systematics
  • Tanzania

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