The quest for the unknown revealed a fascinating discovery last month. Pune-based scientist of the Zoological Survey of India (ZSI), Dr Aparna Kalawate and her team discovered a new subspecies of a tiger moth in the northern Western Ghats.

This was the first time in India wherein DNA barcoding was used for research along with morphological (body characteristics) and genitalia analysis for the identification of species of moths.

Dr Aparna Kalawate

'Olepa Schleini' is discovered in the northern Western Ghats by the researcher Dr Aparna Kalawate and her team.

This discovery will be an addition to the 11 kinds of species known so far in the Olepa genus. The newly found moth is named as Olepa Schleini Chandrai, which is sub-species and named after the head scientist of ZSI, Dr Chandra.

'The proposal of new subspecies and identification of species is done based on the combination of morphological studies, accessible literature comparisons, geographical distribution, DNA barcoding, and its phylogeny,” Dr Aparna Kalawate told the EarthView.

Dr Kalawate presently working at Zoological Survey of India said, "Shital Pawar, A Shabnam and KP Dinesh, in charge of the barcoding lab were part of the team. The moth genus Olepa Watson is particularly known by 11 species around the world. Interestingly, one of the kinds of the Olepa moth was discovered in Nandurbar whose morphological and male genitalia description was matching with the species of Olepa schleini found in Israel."

She further said, “The presence of species was a doubtful question, due to the contrasting geographical collection localities. Israel consists of completely diverse geography. So to understand this complexity, we conducted MT (mitochondrial) COI DNA Barcode studies on the available samples to assure the identities which were found in Nandurbar and Palghar."

"Population of O. schleini from Nandurbar was a 100 per cent match to the MT DNA Barcodes of the O. Schleini species described from Israel, found during the DNA Barcode studies. So, it was a great achievement for India to find out a sub-species of Olepa," said Dr Kalawate.

She further explained, "After the test, the samples of O. schleini from Palghar matched 0.6 percent genetically divergent from the O. schleini from Israel, thus we have categorized it as sub-species. This can be regarded as a new species after further studies. And the new subspecies has been documented as Olepa schleini chandrai Kalawate, 2020."

Need for research:

"I started working on moths in 2015. I had collected samples in 2016, 2017, and 2019. Most of the species of the genus Olepa are morphologically cryptic (hard to differentiate) and complex to determine the actual diversity of species. For years, hardly someone was working on this species. These moths feed on important cash crops, Cotton, Brinjal, etc. So we need to look for these moths as they are very important for ecological balance,” said Dr Kalawate.

She added, “We as humans look forward to preserving only animals which are big as the size of humans, and don't care about the small creatures. There should be a sense of understanding that everything in nature is equally important.”

Why should we care?

“These moths are important for pollination of several night flowers. As they are night moths, so no one generally took the initiative to study them. Also, it is a good source of food for several birds. Even discovering new species, studying their habits and defining their geographical distribution is very important for the country’s biodiversity," said Dr Kalawate.

With the increase in pollution and various climatic threats, the entire biodiversity is under the threat of getting extinct. These discoveries help us understand the behaviour of new species, their importance in nature and ways to conserve them. It is important to understand that every organism plays an important role in nature and it is important to conserve nature's bio-diversity.

Written by: Manoj Khetan