In a startling discovery, a common butterfly in Israel was identified as an entirely new species – making it the first such finding from the region in over a century, scientists say. Named the Acentria’s fritillary, the butterfly was spotted as it flew over the slopes of Mount Hermon in northern Israel. Researchers from Zoological Institute in Russia initiated an exhaustive study of Israeli butterflies in 2012. In 2013, they sampled a few fritillaries from Mt Hermon. Researchers noticed that the specimens “did not look right” – their genitalia appeared different from those of the typical Persian fritillary.
They then studied this population in-depth. They carried out sequencing DNA from the specimens and found that they had a unique molecular signature very different from the DNA of any other fritillary. This is the first new butterfly species discovered and described from the territory of Israel in 109 years. “It was a surprise that no one had already discovered it,” said Vladimir Lukhtanov of Zoological Institute in St Petersburg.
“The lepidopterists (experts in butterflies and moths) had been sure that the Hermon samples belonged to the common species called Persian fritillary (Melitaea persea), because of their similar appearance, but nobody made the effort to study their internal anatomy and DNA,” Lukhtanov said. The Acentria’s fritillary seems to be endemic in northern Israel and the neighbouring territories of Syria and Lebanon. Its evolutionary history is likely to prove interesting, researchers said. The new species is described in th journal Comparative Cytogenetics.