New Butterfly Species Found in Jamaica

Entomologists have described a new species of skipper butterfly from Jamaica.

Troyus turneri, a new species of skipper butterfly from Jamaica (Jeff Gage / Florida Museum of Natural History)

The discovery of the new species, and also the new genus, is reported in a paper in the journal Tropical Lepidoptera Research. Named Troyus turneri, it is the first butterfly discovered in Jamaica since 1995.

“My co-authors on this paper, Dr Vaughn Turland and Dr Delano Lewis, are really excited because they think this butterfly has the potential to be a new sort of flagship species for Jamaican habitat conservation, because it’s a black and gold butterfly living in a green habitat, which together comprise the Jamaican national colors,” said Dr Andrew Warren, senior collections manager at the McGuire Center for Lepidoptera and Biodiversity at the University of Florida’s Museum of Natural History and co-author of the paper.

“Whether or not a tiny little butterfly is going to attract the type of conservation interest that the giant Homerus Swallowtail in Jamaica has remains to be seen.”

“With a wingspan of little more than 1 centimeter, Troyus turneri is about the size of a thumbnail with its wings spread,” Dr Warren said. “The genus was named Troyus for the town of Troy, which is nearest to the region of the Cockpit Country where it was collected, and the species was named for Thomas Turner, an expert on Jamaica butterflies who contributed to its discovery.”

Jamaica is considered one of the most thoroughly researched areas for butterflies in the Greater Antilles, which includes Cuba, Hispaniola, Jamaica and Puerto Rico.

“Until the discovery of T. turneri, researchers believed they knew all the butterflies in Jamaica,” Dr Warren said.

The butterfly likely remained undiscovered for so long due to the inaccessible nature of the Cockpit Country, a 247-mile mostly undeveloped tangle of tropical vegetation. The species was described based on one male and one female specimen, collected in 2011 and 2012 within a quarter mile of each another.

“During 2011, after the discovery of the initial female specimen, we had actually written the description, but any time you have just a single specimen, the chance exists that it’s just a real freak of something else,” Dr Warren said. “I was really keeping my fingers crossed that more specimens would be found this year. Well, we didn’t get many more, but we got exactly one more and it was the male, so that was a huge relief.”

Unlike other Jamaica skipper butterflies that have wings marked with spots of white or orange, T. turneri is dark brown and unmarked, except for a pale yellow band on its hind wing. Researchers used morphological analysis, including comparisons of the insect’s genitalia, and DNA bar coding to determine it represented a new genus.

There are about 20,000 known butterfly species worldwide. Jamaica has 135, with 35 species endemic to the country, including T. turneri.

“One of the goals of biologists is to describe the Earth’s species richness before it’s all gone, and of course we never know what we’re going to find in any of these organisms, be it some unique chemical compound that could provide the cure for cancer or any other number of diseases,” Dr Warren said. “We don’t want to lose anything that could be potentially beneficial for ourselves and for the planet.”

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Bibliographic information: Warren A et al. 2012. Tropical Lepidoptera Research