New species of Olepa moth discovered by ZSI Pune scientists could help devise better pest-control

The larvae of Olepa moths feed on various economically important crops like cotton, castor, sunflower, sesame, etc.

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Three new species and a subspecies of Tiger Moth from Western Ghats of Maharashtra have been discovered by the scientists of the Zoological Survey of India (ZSI), Western Regional Centre (WRC), Pune - Dr Aparna Sureshchandra Kalawate, Dr KP Dinesh and A Shabnam. The scientists have discovered ‘morphotypes’, that is morphological differences occurring in the same species, within the new species. 

The three new species are named as Olepa Ghatmatha (honouring the location of moth collection), Olepa suryamal (honouring the location of moth collection), Olepa zedesi (honouring the location of moth collection and the organisation), and the new subspecies as Olepa suryamal rekhae (honouring the respectable personality). The discovery is significant from an economic point of view as the larvae of Olepa moths feed on various economically important crops like cotton, castor, sunflower, sesame, maize, ivy gourd, brinjal, sweet potato, banana, etc. “It is a minor pest. However, due to climate change, now several minor pests are becoming major pests. Thus, before utilising any control measures to control the pest we need to have proper knowledge of species, with an understanding of its actual nuisance value,” said moth taxonomist Dr Kalawate, the lead author of the paper.

The Olepa moths (common name) are considered to be cryptic species. “The identification of the species just based on morphological characters and colour was quite tricky says Before this study, a total of 11 species were recorded across the world. Now, with the addition of the three new species, the total is 14 species including two subspecies.

While moths are related to butterflies, they have received much lesser attention than that of their more ‘charismatic’ counterparts. Another reason why moths have been studied less is that they are nocturnal. Moths are considered to be indicators of the health of habitat and environment as they are habitat-specific. They are important food resources for secondary consumers like spiders, mites, ants, wasps, birds, reptiles, amphibians, bats, etc.