Scientists Discover The First Moth Species That Eats A Highly Toxic Plant

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Scientists Discover The First Moth Species That Eats A Highly Toxic Plant

The first known moth species whose caterpillars specialize on devouring the highly toxic alpine rose plant has been discovered accidently by researchers.

Although the rust-red alpine rose (Rhododendron ferrugineum) is a pretty shrub with wonderful blossoms, it is “extremely deadly,” according to Pensoft. In fact, grazing animals often avoid it, and “no insect in the entire Alpine region has previously been known to concentrate on them.” However, during a butterfly survey for Biodiversity Monitoring Switzerland in July, researchers chance to take a break near an afflicted alpine rose shrub. The researchers found even more caterpillars when they returned later that month and then in August to look for them.

According to Pensoft, “the chance glimpse of the first caterpillar in an alpine rose leaf was an utter adrenaline rush,” and “it was instantly evident that this must be a unique species.”

“The discovery was instantly surprising, as no specialized leaf-miners had previously been recognized from this plant, and hence this plant is normally overlooked by lepidopterists,” the researchers stated in their study, which was published in Alpine Entomology. “The moths that emerged after that were recognized as Lyonetia ledi based on exterior morphological traits as well as DNA barcoding.” The alpine rose leaf-miner moth is the first known moth species to mine this very deadly plant. The larvae of this species bore through the leaf’s skin shortly after hatching, according to Pensoft. The caterpillar spends its entire existence inside the leaf skins, eating the leaf from within. The caterpillars are protected from predators and severe weather as a result of this. When it’s time to pupate, it’ll leave.

The researchers were taken aback by the discovery, according to Pensoft. The species is found “widespread throughout northern Europe, northern Asia, and North America,” in addition to specializing in a particularly deadly plant. It feeds “exclusively” on swamp porst and Gagel bush in northern Europe, bushes that do not grow in the Alps.

Furthermore, they discovered the population “very secluded” in Switzerland’s Engadine valley, about 440 kilometers from the next known population in north Lower Austria.

According to the researchers, the swamp porst and alpine rose may have shared a habitat around 22,000 years ago during cold periods.

“It’s highly likely that certain species populations relocated after the last cold spell and the melting of the glaciers. The Washington Newsday Brief News is a daily newspaper published in Washington, D.C.

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