What’s on the van? – Sunset moth

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This week’s What’s on the van? comes from Katherine Child, of the Museum’s Hope Entomological Collections.

This striking image shows the underside of a large tropical moth belonging to the family Uraniidae. Its scientific name is Alcidia boops, but it’s also known as a sunset moth due to its striking, shimmery colours. Unlike most moths, this species is active during the day. As the light shifts on the insect’s wings you can see the iridescent scales which act as a warning to predators. These bright colours advertise the fact that the creature is toxic and would not be a tasty mouthful.

Underside and topside of the sunset moth. Photographed by Katherine.


– Underside and topside of the sunset moth. Photographed by Katherine.

Not only is the specimen pictured very beautiful, it is also extremely important. It’s one of almost 4000 butterflies and moths which form the museum’s Lepidoptera Type collection.  A type specimen is the designated individual from which an entire species is first described. This specimen will be referred back to by researchers, and other specimens are checked against it, time and time again. Happily for me, over the last few years it’s been my job to photograph this entire collection; this is one of my favourite specimens from it, and one of the moths which has stood out the most as I’ve worked my way through them all.

Many of the types in our collection are very old and inevitably some are a little the worse for wear. This particular female was collected from the Indonesian island, of Aru in 1857 by the famous naturalist Alfred Russell Wallace, and despite the fact that it’s over 150 years old it’s in extremely good condition – still a really impressive sight.

What's on the van?

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