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Male (left) and female (right) of the newly described owlet moth species Admetovis icarus. Photo: Lars Crabo

A newly-recognized species of owlet moth recently discovered to inhabit high-elevation mountains in western North America was named after the Greek mythological character Icarus.

From now on, scientists will be referring to the new insect as Admetovis icarus.

In their paper, Lars Crabo, from Washington State University, and Christian Schmidt, from Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, explain that the combination of the distinct flame-shaped mark on the moth's forewing and its high-elevation habitat were quick to remind them of Icarus, who is said to have died after flying so close to the sun that his wings made of wax and feathers caught fire.

The study is part of the seventh volume of the "Contributions to the systematics of New World macro-moths" series, where all previous volumes have also been published as special issues in ZooKeys.

Found in the town of Nederland, Colorado, the moth was collected at an elevation of 2,896m above sea level. The species has also been recorded all the way from central Utah and central Colorado to the Selkirk Mountains of southeastern British Columbia, including a record from northeastern Oregon. It can be spotted between June and August at night.

In fact, it turns out that the moth has been collected during surveys in the past on multiple occasions, but has been misidentified with another closely related species: Admetovis oxymorus.

While the flame mark is a characteristic feature in all three species known in the genus (Admetovis), in the newly described species it is darker. When compared, the wings of the Icarus moth are also more mottled.

Despite the biology of the larvae being currently unknown, the scientists believe they are climbing cutworms and feed on woody shrubs, similarly to the species Admetovis oxymorus.

"Finding undiscovered moths is not that unusual, even though scientists have been naming insects since the eighteenth century," said Crabo.

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