VAL Observation Helps Identify New Leaf Mining Moth Genus

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March 19, 2021 by VAL

Leaf mines of Aspilanta ampelopsifoliella found by Spencer Hardy. Click on the image to see the record on the Vermont Atlas of Life at iNaturalist.

While exploring the LaPlatte River Marsh Natural Area in the fall of 2019, VCE’s Bee Biologist Spencer Hardy noticed a Virginia Creeper with an interesting pair of leaf mines on it. “Leaf mines” are the result of insects feeding within the tissue of leaves and are a relatively easy way to document an incredible number of moth and fly species. In this case, as a result of pure happenstance, two leaf mines on adjacent leaflets grew symmetrically, making it appear as if the leaf mine had crossed from one leaf to another. 

After snapping a few photos and uploading them to the Vermont Atlas of Life on iNaturalist, Spencer forgot about this observation. Less than a year later, however, this observation was part of a new paper published in the journal ZooKeys. This paper re-examined a group of leaf mining moths and identified a new genus Aspilanta. This genus includes the species documented by Spencer’s 2019 observation: Aspilanta ampelopsifoliella. The particular observation from Vermont was one of four from iNaturalist that were cited in the paper and provide information on the range of this species as well as photographic examples of the leaf mines. It also represents the first, and so far only, record of Aspilanta in Vermont.

Map of locations reported in iNaturalist. Click on the image to view the species account and live map.

While species of birds and mammals are still being split and lumped occasionally, their taxonomy is comparatively well understood. For insects, especially small and hyperdiverse groups, our understanding of their taxonomy is still in its infancy and new species and genera are being described frequently. All the more reason to pull out your camera and go explore your neighborhood!