Slug moths in North America

This article by Jerry Cates, first published on 6 February 2011, was revised last on 26 January 2015. © Bugsinthenews Vol. 12:02(04)

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Limacodidae: spiny oak slug (Euclea delphinii); dorsal body; Janet FB, Cedar Creek, TX--05 Feb 2011

Euclea delphinii

The slug ,moths were first described by the Swedish taxonomist Carl Linnaeus (1707-1778) in the 18th century — the exact date is obscure — who applied the generic epithet Euclea to a grouping of slug moths which, today, are classified under the Limacodidae family in the order Lepidoptera.

According to the taxonomist Johan Andreas Murray (1740-1791), Linnaeus also applied this generic epithet to a grouping of flowering botanicals in the ebony (Ebaneceae) family. Some 20 species of botanicals are in this genus.

In the Limacodidae, the genus refers to a number of slug moths with similar characteristics. At least four species are presently recognized: (1) Euclea delphinii, commonly known as the spiny oak slug moth, (2) Euclea dolliana, (3) Euclea incisa, and (4) Euclea nanina. The latter three in this list have not been accorded common names.

The details surrounding the etymology of this name are murky. The prefix is of Greek derivation (ευ-, “good, well, pleasing, well”), while the suffix is in doubt, being, we speculate, either from the Greek suffix -κλης, which is attached to many Greek proper names to indicate honor or fame; or alternately, though such mixing of languages is a questionable — though not unheard of — practice, this may derive from the common Latin suffix, -cle, a suffix that denotes a diminutive character:

Taxonomy of the spiny oak slug moth:

  • Kingdom Animalia (ahn-uh-MAYHL-yuh)  — first described in 1758 by the Swedish taxonomist Carolus Linnaeus (1707 – 1778), using the Latin word animal = “a living being,” from the Latin word anima = “vital breath”, to refer to multicellular, eukaryotic organisms whose body plans become fixed during development, some of which undergo additional processes of metamorphosis later in their lives; most of which are motile, and thus exhibit spontaneous and independent movements; and all of whom are heterotrophs that feed by ingesting other organisms or their products;
  • Phylum Arthropoda (ahr-THROPP-uh-duh) — first described in 1829 by the French zoologist Pierre André Latreille [November 20, 1762 – February 6, 1833], using the two Greek roots αρθρον (AR-thrawn) = jointed + ποδ (pawd) = foot, in an obvious reference to animals with jointed feet, but in the more narrow context of the invertebrates, which have segmented bodies as well as jointed appendages;
  • Class Insecta (ehn-SEK-tuh) — first described in 1758 by the Swedish taxonomist Carolus Linnaeus (1707 – 1778), using the Latin word insectum, a calque of the Greek word ἔντομον ( EN-toh-mawn) = “(that which is) cut into sections”; comprised of arthropods with chitinous external (exo-) skeletons, a three part body composed of a distinct head, thorax, and abdomen, the midmost part having three pairs of jointed legs, and the foremost part having a pair of compound eyes and antennae;
  • Subclass Pterygota (tare-ee-GOH-tah) — first described in 1888 by Lang, using the Greek roots πτερυξ (TARE-oos) = wing, to refer to insects with wings, or that had wings but in the process of evolution have since lost them;
  • Infraclass Neoptera (nee-OPP-tur-uh) — first described in 1890 by the Dutch entomologist Frederick Maurits van der Wulp (1818-1899) using the Greek roots νεος (NEE-ose) = youthful, new + πτερυ (TARE-ohn) = wing, to refer to winged insects that are capable of folding their wings over their abdomens, in contrast to more primitive winged insects that are unable to flex their wings in this manner (e.g., the dragonflies, in the infraclass Paleoptera);
  • Superorder Endopterygota (ehn-doh-tare-ee-GOH-tah) — first described by the English physician and entomologist David Sharp (1840-1922) using the Greek root ενδον (ENN-dohn) = within + the established expression pterygota (see above) to refer to insects within the latter subclass that undergo complete metamorphosis, i.e., larval, pupal, and adult stages;
  • Order Lepidoptera (lep-uh-DOPP-tur-uh) — first formally described in 1758 (though he coined the expression in 1735, informally) by the Swedish taxonomist Carolus Linnaeus (1707 – 1778), using the Greek roots λεπιδωτος (lepp-eh-DOH-tose) = scaly + πτερυ (TARE-ohn) = wing, to refer to insects with scales covering their wings, i.e., the moths and butterflies;
  • Suborder Glossata …
  • Infraorder Heteroneura …
  • Division Ditrysia …
  • Superfamily Zygaenoidea …
  • Family Limacodidae  …
  • Series Limacodiformes …
  • Genus Euclea  (YEW-clee-uh) … The details surrounding the etymology of this name are murky. The prefix is of Greek derivation (ευ-, “good, well, pleasing, well”), while the suffix is in doubt, being, we speculate, either from the Greek suffix -κλης, which is attached to many Greek proper names to indicate honor or fame; or alternately, though such mixing of languages is a questionable — though not unheard of — practice, this may derive from the common Latin suffix, -cle, a suffix that denotes a diminutive character.
  • Species Euclea delphinii (Gray, 1832) (dell-FINN-ee-eye) — The specific epithet, delphinii (from the Greek δελφινιον, delphinium, a reference to the temple of Apollo, in keeping with the habit of the master taxonomist Carl Linnaeus [1707-1778], who applied that epithet to a number of moth species), was first described by the British zoologist George Robert Gray (1808-1872), who first described this species. He did this in 1832, at the age of 24, one year before he, his older brother, and several of their colleagues founded the Royal Entomological Society of London (1833). Gray’s older brother was the British zoologist John Edward Gray (1800-1875), also a British zoologist of some repute, whose work involved all branches of zoology but focused on the molluscs. His involvement in zoological endeavors began at the age of 15, when he volunteered to collect insects for the British Museum. Their father was the noted pharmacologist and botanist Samuel Frederick Gray (1766-1828).

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Questions? Corrections? Comments? Feel free to e-mail jerry.cates@bugsinthenews.info. You may also register, log in, and leave a detailed comment in the space provided below.

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