Ophiusini Corrections

Earlier this year, I presented a post on the noctuoid moth tribe Ophiusini. As it turns out, that post includes some notable errors. One of the main sources I used, Zahiri et al. (2012), stated that Ophiusini “have a strongly modified apex to the proboscis, with strong and enlarged spines and erectile, reversed hooks that are used in fruit-piercing or lachrymal-feeding behaviour“. As reviewed by Zilli (2021), such hooks on the proboscis are unique to a separate subgroup of the family Erebidae, the Calpinae. Ophiusini have thin, nail-like spines on the proboscis but no erectile hooks. They are still fruit-piercers but no ophiusins have been observed to date engaging in lachrymal feeding.

Artena dotata, copyright Shipher Wu.

Zilli (2021) had further comments on the historically fraught concept of Ophiusini. As noted in my earlier post, ‘Ophiusini’ has historically been recognised as a cosmopolitan group of moths but molecular studies have lead to its restriction to the Old World, North American exemplars being transferred to the related tribe Poaphilini. However, though the two groups are each supported as monophyletic by molecular data, they are not well defined morphologically. Characters previously thought distinct to one or the other do not always hold true. Ophiusini have been described as having reduced coremata but some ophiusins have coremata larger than those of some poaphilins. Ophiusins have been supposed to lack the waxy bloom on the pupa found in other noctuoids but some species do indeed have such a bloom. Some have pointed to the use of Euphorbiaceae as host plants by Poaphilini but not Ophiusini, but not all poaphilins feed on Euphorbiaceae and their use of this plant family is generally correlated with species being more generalist feeders overall.

One character that may yet distinguish the two tribes is the location of the androteca, a groove along the top of one of the leg segments in the male that contains a long brush of dense hairs (I’m not sure just what the function of this structure is meant to be but I would suspect something to do with dispersing pheromones). In Ophiusini, this structure is found on the femur of the fore leg. In Poaphilini, it is on the tibia of the mid leg. Nevertheless, Zilli (2021) questions the reliability of this feature: both arrangments are found in other tribes and neither alone is diagnostic.

Conversely, molecular phylogenies support the two tribes as sister taxa, and they share a number of distinctive features of the terminalia. While he does not formalise the suggestion, Zilli (2021) seems to feel that we might be better served by a return to a broader Ophiusini uniting the two tribes as one. I commented in my previous post that noctuoid classification has been in a continuous flux for as long as it has been a thing. It would be presumptuous to believe that it has finally been settled.

REFERENCES

Zahiri, R., J. D. Holloway, I. J. Kitching, J. D. Lafontaine, M. Mutanen & N. Wahlberg. 2012. Molecular phylogenetics of Erebidae (Lepidoptera, Noctuoidea). Systematic Entomology 37: 102–124.

Zilli, A. 2021. Tabwecala robinsoni gen. nov., sp. nov., from Vanuatu and its systematic postion in the ‘Ophiusini-Poaphilini’ clade (Lepidoptera, Erebidae). Nota Lepidopterologica 44: 193–211.

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