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Digital Guide to Moth Identification

Taxonomy & Systematics -- Evolutionary Relationships of Moths

Taxonomists give us scientific names for moths when new species are described. At times they lump or split species, revise genera and families, and perform other housekeeping chores that might result in changing the scientific names of moths. They also curate collections in museums, study the affinities of species, and propose systematic arrangements (the most probable phylogenetic trees, family trees, cladograms) that aid our understanding of the world of moths.

Cladograms are derived from a supporting base of knowledge and may reflect biases in the interpretation of those underlying data. The cladogram presented below is based on data given in the Covell Field Guide (1984) which were based in large measure upon data taken from the Hodges Check List (1983). Two decades of additional research have resulted is substantial change in the understanding of relationships among moth taxa as well as in the number of described species. One may well expect that, when our use of Hodges 1983 is succeeded by a more modern check list now in preparation (in two years or so ???) that this cladogram may need substantial revision.

A Cladogram for the Moths of North America

Family names followed by asterisks are presumed to have no representatives in Eastern North America (7 families, 9 species). When the butterflies/skippers are removed from the count there remain just over 11,000 species of moths (1983 data), a number which may have grown close to 11,400 today. It would be no great surprise for the North American species total to eventually be found to be between 13,000-15,000 with the greatest increase in the microlepidoptera. Perhaps 60-70% of these will be found in the eastern half of the continent.

Moth Photographers Group  at the  Mississippi Entomological Museum  at the  Mississippi State University

Send suggestions for additions and corrections to the Editor.

Taxonomy.shtml -- 08/01/2005