Systematics, morphology, and behavior of metalmark moths (Lepidoptera: Choreutidae)

Date of Completion

January 2008


Biology, Entomology




Metalmark moths (Lepidoptera: Choreutidae) are members of a small microlepidopteran family with about 400 currently described species. As for most other microlepidopterans, their biology, ecology, and systematics are in a nascent stage. In this work I focus on choreutid systematics, in particular alpha taxonomy and molecular phylogenetics, and on the defense mechanisms of larvae and adults. In the first chapter I briefly introduce the family by reviewing the morphology of the adults, as well as the immatures, and what is known about their biology. In the second chapter I describe a new Neotropical genus of choreutids, Ornarantia Rota, gen. nov. In addition, I provide a taxonomic revision of one species group within this genus, the immarginata group, describe a new species in this group, and re-describe the remaining three species. In the third chapter I focus on elucidating subfamilial and generic phylogenetic relationships of chorerutids using one mitochondrial (cytochrome c oxidase I) and two nuclear markers (elongation factor-1 and wingless), using three different methods of phylogenetic inference (parsimony, maximum likelihood, and Bayesian inference). The main result from this chapter is that the family Choreutidae is not monophyletic because members from one of the three choreutid subfamilies, the subfamily Millieriinae, are not closely related to the members of the other two subfamilies, Choreutinae and Brenthiinae. A sister group relationship between Choreutinae and Brenthiinae is well supported, as are relationships among most choreutid genera. This represents the first known phylogeny of the family. In the final two chapters I explore predator/parasitoid defense mechanisms of the adults and larvae in the genus Brenthia. Through a set of experiments I show that Brenthia moths mimic jumping spiders for protection from these common predators of small arthropods. This is the first time it has been demonstrated that moths are mimics of jumping spiders. The fifth chapter is about a larval defense mechanism in which Brenthia larvae build escape hatches within their silken shelters. These larvae are capable of escaping through their escape holes in record speeds of only 100 ms. In addition, these experiments show that Brenthia larvae employ their silken webbing as an extension of the sensory system. Such usage of webbing is for the first time shown to occur in the order Lepidoptera. ^