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Order Lepidoptera


Moths (and butterflies) belong to the order Lepidoptera. This name comes from the Greek lepis = 'scale' + pteron = 'wing'. There are approximately 180,000 species of Lepidoptera and about 160,000 of these are moths!

Moth vs. Buttefly
Although the rules for distinguishing moths from butterflies are not hard and fast, one very good guiding principle is that butterflies have thin antennae and (with one exception) have small balls or clubs at the end of their antennae. Moth antennae can be quite varied in appearance, but none have a club end. Most species of moth are nocturnal, but there are also crepuscular (dusk) and diurnal species...so if it's flying during the daytime, don't automatically assume it's a butterfly!

Sunset Moths: too pretty for words
Although people often think that moths are drab, dark, and grey compared to "all-the-colours-of-the-rainbow" butterflies, moths actually have a dazzling range of patterns and colours, especially when you view them under good lighting conditions.

Unfortunately for Jamaica, one of our most spectacular moths went extinct in the mid-1890s or the very early 1900s.  The Jamaican Sunset [Urania sloanus (Cramer 1779)] was first described by Pieter Cramer, a Dutch merchant and entomologist. The species name honours Sir Hans Sloane (1660–1753), who served as physician to Jamaica's Lieutenant Governor in 1687-88 and whose collection of plant and animal specimens became the foundation of the British Museum. The genus name Urania derives from Ancient Greek Ουρανία, who was one of the Muses, and means literally 'The Heavenly One'.

Clockwise: (a) University of Alberta entomologist Tom Terzin with specimen of Jamaica’s extinct Urania sloanus (Cramer 1779); (b) Cuban Sunset Moth (Urania boisduvalii) © Rayner Núñez; (c) Scales of a Sunset Moth © Linden Grenhill.

Plate LXXXV from Pieter Cramer’s “Uitlandsche Kapellen”:   he identified F & E as Papilio sloanus. Click here to learn more about the Urania sloanus specimen displayed by Dr.Tomislav Terzin. Aapparently the previous owner of the specimen discovered this rarity in the garbage, as a friend was throwing out the remnants of his own personal collection in France.

There were only 4 species in the Neotropical genus Urania:   Jamaica's loss is the World's loss.

Jamaican Species & Identification
At least 730 species of moths have been catalogued for Jamaica, with an estimated 40% of which are thought to be restricted entirely to Jamaica.

Illustrations of about 500 species can be seen on Matthew J.C Barnes' website: Moths of Jamaica

Wikipedia provides a Checklist of Jamaican Moths.

The North American Photographers Group Checklist of Antillean Lepidoptera (Moths & Butterflies) is available from the Mississippi Entomological Museum at Mississippi State University. The Checklist is missing a number of Jamaican-endemic butterflies (Superfamily Papilionoidea), but their plates of moth specimens and live animals offer a great start for beginners wanting to identify local moths.

We don't have a species list for Cockpit Country, but below are a few of the common species which visit our verandah. We'll blame having one-too-many Rum Punches for the less-than-stellar photographs . . . and have resolved to try harder (at our photography, not the rum!).
Note 1: When we find a dead moth or butterfly, we try to salvage the specimen where possible - that's why some have pins in them.
Note 2: We are not moth experts. If we've got a species identified incorrectly, PLEASE let us know!

Pterophoridae: Pterophorinae

Unidentified, poss. Exelastis sp.?
Crambidae: Pyraustinae

Agathodes designalis

Desmia ploralis

Diaphania elegans

Hymenia perspectalis

Polygrammodes eleuata

Samea ecclesialis
Sphyngidae: Macroglossinae

Erinnyis alope

Xylophanes pluto
Sphyngidae: Sphyginae

Adhemarius gannascus

Mania aegisthus
Geometridae: Ennominae

Nepheloleuca politia
Geometridae: Geometrinae

Erebidae: Arctiinae

Carathis palpalis

Ctenuchidia sp.

Hypercompe nigriplaga
Erebidae: Erebinae

Ascalapha odorata

Lesmone formularis

Thysania zenobia
Noctuidae: Catocalinae

Antiblemma sp.
Unknown Stuff: Let Us Know If You Can ID!

UI #1

UI #2

UI #3

UI #4

UI #5

Barnes, M.J.C. Online database: Moths of Jamaica. Accessed 10-August-2016.

Cramer, Pieter. 1775-1782. De uitlandsche Kapellen voorkomende in de drie Waereld-Deelen Asia, Africa en America – Papillons exotiques des trois parties du monde l'Asie, l'Afrique et l'Amerique (eBook).

North American Moth Photographers Group. Online database. Lepidoptera of the Greater and Lesser Antilles Accessed 10-August-2016.

Sloane, H. 1725. A voyage to the islands Madera, Barbadoes, Nieves, St. Christophers, and Jamaica; with the natural history of the herbs and trees, four-footed beasts, fishes, birds, insects, reptiles, &c. of the last of those islands, vol. 2. London.

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