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Insect "UFO's" Identified at Marine Corps Air Station / September 8, 1999 / News from the USDA Agricultural Research Service

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Insect "UFO's" Identified at Marine Corps Air Station

By Hank Becker
September 8, 1999

An intensive three-year survey found 635 species of Lepidoptera--moths and butterflies--at the Marine Corps Air Station Miramar in San Diego County, Calif., including one rare butterfly, 12 moths new to science, and two moths new to the U.S.

Butterflies and moths perform a variety of positive "ecological services" including the pollination of flowering plants and serving as food or prey items for countless other invertebrates as well as larger animals. In contrast, the larvae of many lepidopterans are economically important pests of crops and ornamentals.

Entomologist John W. Brown with the Agricultural Research Service conducted and orchestrated the survey of the 23,000-acre air station from October 1995 through September 1998 as part of an environmental assessment. The program was administered through the Biodiversity Center of the Californias at the San Diego Natural History Museum. Brown is a Lepidoptera expert with the ARS Systematic Entomology Laboratory in Washington, D.C. ARS is USDA's chief research agency.

To capture the six-legged "unidentified flying objects," the scientists' sampling methods included black light trapping for 364 nights, daytime collecting for 148 days, and "baiting" with pheromones, natural compounds that attract insects.

Inventories like Brown's document the country's rich biological heritage and contribute to understanding biodiversity and natural resources present in the United States. Among the 635 species found were 12 species of moths previously unknown to science. The survey also uncovered the Hermes copper (Lycaena hermes), a rare butterfly recognized as "sensitive" and declining by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Two moths--Dryadaula terpsichorella and Metapluera potosi--had never before been found in the United States.

The air station's lepidopterans are even more diverse than the survey has documented, according to Brown. He estimates that nearly 700 to possibly more than 900 species call the station home.

Scientific contact: John W. Brown, ARS Systematic Entomology Laboratory, Washington, DC., phone: (202) 382-1778, fax (202) 786-9422, jbrown@sel.barc.usda.gov

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