Ryan St Laurent, a doctoral student at the Florida Museum’s McGuire Center for Lepidoptera and Biodiversity, studies an obscure, strange family of moths known as Mimallonidae, or sack-bearer moths. As caterpillars, these insects make houses out of poop, silk and plant material to protect themselves.

St Laurent, Chris Hamilton and Akito Kawahara published a study in Systematic Entomology showing that a molecular technique known as anchored hybrid enrichment can allow researchers to extract as much DNA from dried museum sack-bearer moth specimens as from ethanol-preserved, recently collected material. They used AHE to create the first Mimallonidae phylogeny, a tree that shows the evolutionary relationships between organisms.

“Now that we know that AHE works really well with dry museum specimens, it opens the doors to essentially infinite possibilities of molecular studies,” St Laurent said.

In 2020, St Laurent, Kawahara and Lary Reeves described a new species of sack-bearer moth from Arizona’s Sky Island region. They named the moth Cicinnus chambersi in honor of Tucson naturalist Aaron Chambers.

The vast majority of sack-bearer moths are found in Central and South America. C. chambersi is only the fifth species of sack-bearer moth discovered in the U.S. and the first described from the country in nearly half a century.

The research was funded by the National Science Foundation.

Source: Ryan St Laurent, rstlaurent@flmnh.ufl.edu

Learn more about the McGuire Center for Lepidoptera and Biodiversity at the Florida Museum.

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