Titanomis

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Frosted phoenix
Titanomis sisyrota female.jpg
Female Titanomis sisyrota
Status NZTCS DD.svg
Data Deficient (NZ TCS) [1]
Scientific classification
Kingdom:
Phylum:
Class:
Order:
Family:
Unassigned
Genus:
Titanomis

Meyrick, 1888
Species:
T. sisyrota
Binomial name
Titanomis sisyrota
Meyrick, 1888 [2]
Synonyms
  • Titonomis Dalla Torre & Strand, 1929

Titanomis is a genus of moths containing a single species Titanomis sisyrota, also known as the frosted phoenix. Taxonomists have difficulty placing this moth within an existing superfamily. The species is currently regarded as endemic to New Zealand. Described as "New Zealand's most enigmatic moth", only ten specimens have ever been collected, none since 1959, although a living moth was observed in March 2024. The species is classified as "Data Deficient" by the Department of Conservation.

Contents

Taxonomy

Illustrated by George Vernon Hudson in his 1928 Butterflies and Moths of New Zealand Titanomis sisyrota MA I437624 TePapa Plate-XXV-(cropped).jpg
Illustrated by George Vernon Hudson in his 1928 Butterflies and Moths of New Zealand

Titanomis is considered an enigmatic unplaced genus and may require its own family. [3] The genus and species were first described by Edward Meyrick in 1888 using a specimen collected by George Hudson. [4] [5]

The location of collection of that specimen was unclear, as a result an error made by Meyrick. [5] Hudson, in his 1928 book The Moths and Butterflies of New Zealand, discussed and illustrated this species, and noted catching the holotype in 1882 in Nelson. [6] The label written by Meyrick, however, stated that the holotype was collected by Hudson on 10 May 1885 in Wellington. John S. Dugdale, in his Annotated Catalogue of New Zealand Lepidoptera, accepted that the type locality of the species was Nelson. [5] The error arose from Meyrick confusing the details of the capture of the holotype with the details of its shipment to the United Kingdom. [7] The holotype specimen is held at the Natural History Museum, London. [5]

Etymology

The genus name is derived from Titan, meaning giant, and anomis, meaning anomalous. [7] It refers to the size and unusual morphology of the group in which the species was originally placed. [7] The epithet is derived from sisyrota, meaning wearing a shaggy garment, and refers to the hairs on the inner margin of the hindwings. [7]

In 2001 New Zealand lepidopterist Robert Hoare described T. sisyrota as "New Zealand's most enigmatic moth", and proposed the common name "Frosted Phoenix", alluding to the way the elusive moth "burns into ashes and then rises again", and its ash-coloured forewings. [7] [8]

Description

Titanomis sisyrota photographed by Pav Johnsson on the balcony of the South Sea Hotel, Oban, March 2024 Titanomis sisyrota 357771622.jpg
Titanomis sisyrota photographed by Pav Johnsson on the balcony of the South Sea Hotel, Oban, March 2024

Meyrick described the species as follows:

Female. — 65 mm. Head, palpi, and thorax whitish suffusedly irrorated with dark fuscous (partly defaced). Antennae fuscous. Abdomen rather dark fuscous. Anterior legs dark fuscous, apex of joints obscurely whitish (middle and posterior pair broken). Forewings elongate-oblong, costa gently arched, apex rounded, hindmargin rather oblique, slightly rounded ; rather dark fuscous, irrorated with white except on an irregular posteriorly dilated median longitudinal space ceasing before hindmargin, and somewhat sprinkled with black on veins ; a black streak along submedian fold from near base to beyond middle, interrupted before its apex by a subtriangular white spot : a black longitudinal streak in disc from before middle to about 45, interrupted by a small round white spot at 35 : cilia rather dark fuscous, barred with white (imperfect). Hindwings and cilia fuscous. [4]

The appearance of this moth may give clues as to its preferred habitat. It has been hypothesised that the whitish border of the wings assists the camouflage of the moth against mottled bark, indicating a possible preference for forest habitat. [7]

Distribution

Waipapa Dam Waipapa Power Station - 4590618767.jpg
Waipapa Dam

The species is currently accepted as endemic to New Zealand. [9] [2] However this is an extremely rare species with only 10 reliable records. [7] Based on this irregular pattern of occurrences it has been hypothesised that the species may be a sporadic immigrant. [7]

It has been found in the Waikato, Taupō, Wellington, Nelson, Marlborough, Westland and Southland areas. [10] The earliest capture recorded was at Greymouth in December 1874, and other specimens were taken in Nelson at around the same time. Other than the type specimen mentioned above, specimens were also collected in Blenheim in 1883, in Otaki in 1886, again in Nelson in 1898, in Haldane in Southland in 1900, and in Rangataua in 1921. The last collection of this species took place at Waipapa Dam in the Waikato in 1959, where it was attracted to the floodlights; a worker stored the moth in a tobacco tin. [7] [8]

South Sea Hotel, Oban, Rakiura South Seas Hotel 1 (cropped).jpg
South Sea Hotel, Oban, Rakiura

On 2 March 2024 a Swedish birdwatching group led by biologist and school teacher Pav Johnsson visited Stewart Island / Rakiura. The group were staying in the South Sea Hotel in Oban, and Johnsson set up a UV light on his second-floor balcony before they set out searching for kiwi. Upon their return Johnsson noticed a large, robust moth beneath a chair and took two photographs with his phone. On returning to Sweden, he uploaded a photo to iNaturalist, where it was identified by Robert Hoare as Titanomis sisyrota, making Johnsson at that time the only living person to have observed the species, and the first one to photograph it. [8] Johnsson referred to himself deprecatingly as "some lucky idiot in the right spot at the right time." [8]

Biology and behaviour

Very little is known of the biology of T. sisyrota. [10] Adults are on the wing from December until March. They are attracted to light, with at least two specimens collected in living rooms and another at the floodlights of Waipapa Dam. [6] It has been hypothesised, based on the living room collections, that the adult moth may be more attracted to weaker or less ultraviolet light sources; Pav Johnsson's observation was made with a commercial moth light that used UV and several other wavelengths. [7] [8]

Host species and habitat

The host niche is unknown, but based on the morphology of the species it has been hypothesised to be woody branches or stems of living plants, rotten wood, or even bracket fungi, into which females likely insert their eggs. [7] [10] There are several hypotheses about its preferred habitat. Many of the specimens have been taken near beech forest. [10] The larvae of this species may be associated with rotten podocarp wood, as all the collection localities are close to valley floor kahikatea and mataī forest. [7] The 1959 specimen also occurred near a kanuka forest. [10] T. sisyrota may also be associated with wetland habit, as females of this species come to light more frequently than the males and are therefore more likely to feed on scattered food sources, a feature of species that prefer wetland. [7]

Conservation status

This species has been given the status "Data Deficient" under the New Zealand Threat Classification System. [1] Prior to the observation by Johnsson there had been no record of capture of this species for over 65 years and as such the frosted phoenix was regarded by some as possibly extinct. [10] This lack of observations likely reflected the scarcity of New Zealand lepidopterists collecting specimens and searching for this species. [7]

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References

  1. 1 2 Hoare, R.J.B.; Dugdale, J.S.; Edwards, E.D.; Gibbs, G.W.; Patrick, B.H.; Hitchmough, R.A.; Rolfe, J.R. (2017). "Conservation status of New Zealand butterflies and moths (Lepidoptera), 2015" (PDF). New Zealand Threat Classification Series. 20: 5.
  2. 1 2 "Titanomis sisyrota Meyrick, 1888". www.nzor.org.nz. Landcare Research New Zealand Ltd. Retrieved 24 January 2017.
  3. Hoare, R.J.B. (2012). "Marvels, mysteries and challenges in the New Zealand Lepidoptera fauna" (PDF). Program and Proceedings of the International Lepidopterists' Conference, Denver, July 23–29, 2012. International Lepidopterists' Conference, Denver, July 23–29, 2012. Denver Museum of Natural History. p. 20. OCLC   827976504. Archived from the original (PDF) on 22 March 2016. Retrieved 24 January 2018.
  4. 1 2 Meyrick, Edward (1888). "Descriptions on New Zealand Tineina". Transactions and Proceedings of the New Zealand Institute. 20: 77–106 via Biodiversity Heritage Library.
  5. 1 2 3 4 Dugdale, J. S. (1988). "Lepidoptera-annotated catalogue, and keys to family-group taxa" (PDF). Fauna of New Zealand. 14: 1–264 via Landcare Research New Zealand Ltd.
  6. 1 2 Hudson, G. V. (1928). The Butterflies and Moths of New Zealand. Wellington: Ferguson & Osborn Ltd. p. 350. OCLC   25449322.
  7. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 Hoare, Robert J. B. (2001). "New Zealand's most enigmatic moth - what we know about Titanomys sisyrota" (PDF). DOC Science Internal Series. 5: 1–16. ISBN   0-478-22147-9. ISSN   1175-6519 via Department of Conservation.
  8. 1 2 3 4 5 Mitchell, Charlie (30 March 2024). "Mysterious moth rediscovered". The Press. pp. 1–2.
  9. Gordon, Dennis P., ed. (2010). New Zealand inventory of biodiversity: Kingdom animalia: chaetognatha, ecdysozoa, ichnofossils. Vol. 2. p. 465. ISBN   978-1-877257-93-3. OCLC   973607714. OL   25288394M. Wikidata   Q45922947.
  10. 1 2 3 4 5 6 Patrick, B. H.; Dugdale, J. S. (2000). "Conservation status of the New Zealand Lepidoptera" (PDF). Science for Conservation. 136. Department of Conservation, New Zealand: 9, 32. ISSN   1173-2946. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2017-05-01. Retrieved 2018-06-03.