This newly discovered Enigma moth on Kangaroo Island is causing a stir among scientists

Engima Moth. Image: You Ning Su CSIRO

A newly discovered month, less than 10mm long and named Enigma, on Kangaroo Island in South Australia is causing a stir.

Aenigmatinea glatzella, with its iridescent gold and purple wings, is a so-called living dinosaur which represents a new family of primitive moths.

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

The moth was unveiled today as part of a launch of a foundation to support research into Australian moths and butterflies, and the moths and butterflies in CSIRO’s Australian National Insect Collection in Canberra.

The Enigma moth lives on Southern Cypress-pine trees, a very ancient element of our flora going back to the supercontinent Gondwana from which Australia was formed.

With wings outstretched, the adult moths are about the size of a five-cent piece. They are covered in scales that appear gold and purple, and the edges of their wings have feathery fringes.

Male Enigma Moth. Image: George Gibbs

The adult moths are short-lived. In just one day they emerge from their cocoons, mate, females lay their eggs, and then die.

Australia is thought to be home to about 22,000 species of moths and butterflies, of which about half have been named.

According to CSIRO’s Dr Ted Edwards, who was jointly responsible for describing the new family, by studying the moth’s appearance and analysing its DNA the team has revealed that the evolution of moths and butterflies is even more complex than previously thought.

“While the discovery of this new moth strengthens the evolutionary relationships between other primitive moth families, it also suggests that tongues evolved in moths and butterflies more than once,” said Dr Edwards.

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

A paper announcing the new family of primitive moths from Australia is published in the journal Systematic Entomology.

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