My interest is revisionary systematics of Pyraloidea (snout moths, Zünsler). With 15,000 to 20,000 described species, the Pyraloidea is one of the five largest lepidopteran radiations, comparable in diversity to the Papilionoidea (butterflies) or the Geometridae (inchworms). Among moths, Pyraloidea as a group is first in ecological diversity (with larvae feeding in more ways on more different things) and second in economic importance. One percent of the world's species are snouts, compared with ca. 0.3% for mammals and 0.6% for birds. The absolute number of species could double or triple.
My dissertation research focused on the Odontiinae, a mid-sized subfamily (ca. 375 described species), including global evolutionary relationships and revisions of the Neotropical genera. About half of the species Odontiinae possesses a unique, complex apparatus, part of the male genitalia, which has a known stridulatory function by producing ultrasonic chirps (Gwynne & Edwards 1986). Odontiinae are divided in two tribes: Odontiini, which lack the apparatus, and Eurrhypini, which have it (Leraut & Luquet, 1983). Like many moths, pyraloids have ears ("tympanal organs") to evade bats and other predators, but these often facilitate the evolution of auditory courtship cues to supplement visual cues and pheromones. The Odontiini inhabit deserts and aridlands of Europe, central Asia, Africa and North America, whereas most Eurrhypini are tropical or subtropical. Preliminary results indicate that the distinction is not so clear-cut, as some Odontiini have secondarily lost the apparatus. Centers of greatest eurrhypine diversity are SE Asia and Africa (Viette, 1953). Eurrhypini appear to be weakly phototropic (Waterhouse, 1998; Heortia: Singh et al. 2005), which can impede collecting. Nevertheless, Cliniodes can be found in large numbers in the field (J. Rawlins, pers. comm.), presumably near their host plants.
The full global extent of the Odontiinae was first recognized by E.G. Munroe (1961), who grouped together more than fifty existing genera and subsequently proposed many more. Consequently, the ratio of species to genera is extremely low. Powell (in Powell and Opler, 2009) notes the extremity of the situation in the Odontiinae:
Unencumbered by phylogenetic analysis, this group has the distinction of having received the most extreme generic splitting of any Nearctic lepidopteran lineage, even butterflies, with 33 genera to accommodate 58 species (1.75 species per genus). Emphasis has been placed on sculpturing of the head and frons and eye size, features that vary considerably within genera of other desert moths (e.g., Ethmiidae, Gelechiidae, Noctuidae). (2009: 170)
H.G. Amsel likewise oversplit the Palaearctic genera based on head morphology, and Munroe did the same for many tropical taxa based on female genitalia. In large part, my research aims to rectify the situation, prioritizing the tropical taxa. Attached below is a global key to genera of Eurrhypini and some "Odontiini," plus supplementary character illustrations. The key reflects unpublished nomenclatural changes and is intended only for sorting specimens until such time when the analysis is publishable.
For an updated listing, please see http://www.leptree.net/community_directory
The dissertation research was supported in part by the National Science Foundation's Doctoral Dissertation Improvement Grants (DDIG) program (abstract).
Munroe, E.G. 1961. Synopsis of the North American Odontiinae, with descriptions of new genera and species (Lepidoptera: Pyralidae). Canadian Entomologist Suppl. 24.
Powell, J.A. & P.A. Opler. 2009. Moths of Western North America. Berkeley: U. Calif. Press, xiii+369, 64 pl., figs.