- Scientists have named a new species of butterfly for Emily Graslie, the writer, producer and host of the YouTube channel The Brain Scoop, and the chief curiosity correspondent of Chicago’s Field Museum.
- The postage stamp-sized butterfly Wahydra graslieae is dark rust-colored with jagged bands of silver scales on the underside of its hind wings.
- The scientists identified the butterfly from a single museum specimen collected by American biologist Harold Greeney from the Ecuadorian Andes in 2004. The specimen remained inside a Tupperware box until 2016.
If you’re curious about the natural world, chances are you’ve seen Emily Graslie’s YouTube channel, The Brain Scoop.
From wondering about peregrine falcon promiscuity and how owl vomit helps us understand history, to peering into dried Egyptian mummy brains, Graslie, the writer, producer and host of The Brain Scoop, takes viewers behind the scenes at Chicago’s Field Museum, where she holds the unusual title of chief curiosity correspondent. (Read Mongabay’s interview with Graslie here).
Now, a team of scientists have named a new species of butterfly after her to honor her efforts to educate people about museum collections and natural history.
The postage stamp-sized, dark rust-colored butterfly, Wahydra graslieae, has jagged bands of silver scales on the underside of its hind wings, the scientists report in a new study published in the journal Zootaxa. They identified the butterfly from a single museum specimen that American biologist Harold Greeney had collected in the Ecuadorian Andes in 2004, and which remained inside a Tupperware box of specimens until 2016.
“We thought that after spending years explaining why specimens are important and bringing natural history collections to the attention of the public, Emily was definitely someone who should have a bug named after her,” co-author and butterfly expert Andrew D. Warren, senior collections manager of the Florida Museum of Natural History’s McGuire Center for Lepidoptera and Biodiversity, said in a statement. “She was really overdue for this kind of recognition.”
What makes Wahydra graslieae distinct is that it is much darker than other described Wahydra species. The metallic silver scales on its underwings have also previously been seen only in very distantly related skippers (butterflies of the family Hesperiidae).
The newly described butterfly belongs to a curious, little-known genus called Wahydra, a group of small Andean skippers that are found from Venezuela to Argentina, but are rare in collections, Warren said. This is mostly because these butterflies live at high altitudes, frequently experiencing poor weather conditions, which makes it difficult to locate and sample them in the wild.
All that scientists seem to know about the 15 identified Wahydra species is that some eat bamboo. “Every 1,500-foot [457-meter] increase in elevation in the Andes results in a complete turnover in bamboo species and the butterflies that feed on them,” Warren said. “That would explain the rarity of Wahydra and the patchiness of their distribution.”
Warren thinks that Wahydra graslieae can be rediscovered, “with a little bit of luck and effort.”
Graslie expressed her excitement on Twitter and live streamed her conversation with Warren on her YouTube channel.
“Someone might look at Wahydra graslieae and be completely underwhelmed by what they see,” Graslie said in the statement. “After all, it’s tiny, and lacks the explosively dynamic colorations and patterns that come to mind when you think of a monarch butterfly or an atlas moth — two animals, by the way, that already have names with gravity. Monarch. Atlas. But this is not them.
“This is Wahydra graslieae, a little-known creature that comes to us with more questions than answers,” she added. “In that way I feel a sense of kindredness with this animal and am absolutely honored that Dr. Warren and his team saw fit to associate such a curious skipper with my name. I can’t wait for further research to reveal more information about them.”
- Carneiro E et al (2018). A new species of Wahydra from Ecuador (Hesperiidae, Hesperiinae, Anthoptini). Zootaxa. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.11646/zootaxa.4392.1.11