"Living dinosaur" moth discovered in Australia

Mar 4, 2015 7:25 PM by News Staff, Photo via Csiro Ecosystem Sciences

A moth with iridescent gold and purple wings that dates back to at least 40 million years ago has been discovered in Australia.

About the size of a small coin, scientists are calling Enigmatinea glatzella a living dinosaur. Using DNA analysis, an international team described their find in the journal Systematic Entomology.

It is the first time since the 1970s that a new family of primitive moths has been identified anywhere in the world.

The enigma moth lives on Kangaroo Island of South Australia's coast in Southern Cypress pine trees, a very ancient element of our flora going back to the supercontinent Gondwana. The lives of these adult moths are short. They emerge from their cocoons, mate, females lay their eggs, and then die - all in one day.

Ted Edwards of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization in Australia, who was jointly responsible for describing the new family, said it showed the evolution of moths and butterflies is even more complex than previously thought.

Edwards, an honorary fellow with CSIRO's Australian National Insect Collection told The Age newspaper that the moth has many of the structural features found in primitive moth species that lived 40 to 50 million years ago.

"It's really quite remarkable because it means that that ancestral line has continued right through without changing a lot of its basic structures," he said.

Australia is thought to be home to about 22,000 species of moths and butterflies, of which about half have been named. And the country is something of a haven for species that thrived tens of million years ago.

"Our fauna is so exciting we can still find new primitive species," Edwards added. "Australia is so rich in moths that vast numbers still remain to be discovered."

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