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A century later, the mystery of Alfred Wallace’s butterfly is solved

A century later, the mystery of Alfred Wallace's butterfly is solved

A living individual (Famegana nisa) in its natural habitat. Credit: Dr. Yu-Feng Hsu

A centuries-old mystery has surrounded the fauna of Taiwanese butterflies since the “father of zoogeography”

;, Alfred Russell Wallace, in collaboration with Frederick Moore, authored a remarkable document in 1866: the first to study the island’s lepidoptera.

At the time, Moore was dealing with some of the moths in his research, and Wallace was investigating the butterflies. Together, they reported 139 species, including 93 nocturnal 46-day species, respectively. Of the last five species, they have been described as new to science. Although the correct locations of four of these five butterflies in question have been checked several times since 1886, one of these butterflies: Lycaena nisa, will never be revised until very soon.

In a modern research project on Taiwanese butterflies, scientists extracted the original specimen from the Wallace collection at the History Museum in London, UK. After examining historical specimens housed at the Taiwan Institute for Agricultural Research, in addition to the newly collected butterflies from Australia and Hong Kong, Dr. Yu-Feng Hsu of the National Taiwan Normal University finally resolved the identity of Alfred Ware’s mysterious butterfly: is now passed under the name Famegana Nisa (comb. nov.), while two other types of names (Lycaena alsulus and Zizeeria alsulus eggletoni) have been shown to have been invented for the same butterfly after Wallace’s initial description. Thus, the latter two are synonymous with Famegana nisa.

A century later, the mystery of Alfred Wallace's butterfly is solved

A typical specimen from Famegana nisa, collected by Wallace in 1866 (below). Credit: Dr. Yu-Feng Hsu (courtesy of NHM)

Although he has led entomologists to scratch their heads for more than a century, Wallace’s butterfly does well in the wild. As long as one knows what else lives in the open grassy habitats around, of course. Widely known as “blue grass”, “blue grass blue” or “black spotted blue grass”, the butterfly can be easily distinguished among other native species by its even grayish-white undersides, combined with indistinct submarkal bands and a single protruding black spot On the rear wing.

However, the species demonstrates high seasonal variability, which means that individuals bred during the dry season have a reduced black spot, a darker ground color at the bottom of the wings and more distinct submarginal bands compared to the wet season specimens. Therefore, Dr. Yu-Feng Hsu notes that it may not be necessary to divide the species into subspecies, although up to four have already been identified.

A century later, the mystery of Alfred Wallace's butterfly is solved

A typical specimen from Famegana Nisa, collected by Wallace in 1866 (upper side). Credit: Dr. Yu-Feng Hsu (courtesy of NHM)

Alfred Russell Wallace, a British naturalist, researcher, geographer, anthropologist, biologist and illustrator, was a contemporary of Charles Darwin and also worked on debates within the framework of evolutionary theory, including natural selection. He is also the author of the famous book “Darwinism” in 1889, which explains and defends natural selection.

While Darwin and Wallace exchange ideas, often challenging each other’s conclusions, they develop the idea of ​​natural selection each. For his part, Wallace insisted that there was indeed a serious reason why a species would develop. Unlike Darwin, Wallace argues that rather than a random natural process, evolution occurs to maintain the suitability of a species for the specifics of the environment. Wallace was also one of the first prominent scientists to express concerns about the impact of human activity on the environment.

A local student finds priceless specimens of butterflies

More info:
Yu-Feng Hsu, The identity of Alfred Wallace’s mysterious butterfly taxon Lycaena is not resolved: the Famegana crest is not. new, senior synonym of F. alsulus (Lepidoptera, Lycaenidae, Polyommatinae), ZooKeys (2020). DOI: 10.3897 / zookeys.966.51921

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