|Lithograph by Ernst Haeckel displaying moths of the families Plutellidae, Alucitidae, and Pterophoridae|
|Tinagma gaedikei (Douglasiidae), known only in association with Miami mist (Phacelia purshii) (©microleps)|
|Eupithecia orichloris (Geometridae) grappling with what appears to be a staphylinid beetle|
|Euclemensia bassettella photographed by Mark Dreiling|
This taxonomic artifact is at odds with what is observed in another mega-diverse insect order with a scarcity of parasitoids: the Coleoptera (beetles). Only one parasitoidal lineage of these famously speciose elytron-bearers is ranked at or below generic level: namely, the genus Aleochara (Staphylinidae: Aleocharinae), which with the exception of one species, are larval ectoparasitoids of cyclorrhaphous fly pupae (Peschke & Fuldner, 1977; Peschke et al., 1996). Contrastingly, there are only two exclusively parasitoidal lepidopteran families: the related Epipyropidae and Cyclotornidae (both classified within the superfamily Zygaenoidea).
|Final-instar caterpillar of Fulgoraecia exigua on acanaloniid; photographed by Gary McClellan|
Cyclotornids (consisting of five Australian species within the genus Cyclotorna; Common, 1990) exhibit strong ontogenetic parallels with the Epipyropidae. Female moths spread their eggs adjacent to ant trails (in Cyclotorna monocentra, those created by the dolichoderine Iridomyrmex purpureus); the miniscule first-instar larvae (of similar proportions to their epipyropid cousins) literally gallop along these thoroughfares (Common, 1990), which lead to aggregations of leafhoppers (Cicadellidae) farmed by I. purpureus. These cicadellids serve as initial hosts, the cyclotornid larvae oriented upon them similarly to epipyropids upon planthoppers (situated upon the abdomen below the wings): later instars (flattened and broad by comparison to the first) detach from their leafhopper hosts: exuding allomones attractive to the leafhopper-attending ants, the larvae are then borne back to the I. purpureus colony, where they reside as myrmecophiles; appeasing their hosts chemically whilst preying on the latter's brood before pupation in what is one of the more complicated ecological transitions any insect undergoes through metamorphosis (Dodd, 1912).
To conclude, not all the Lepidoptera are so uninteresting (or so deeply understood) as their repute would lead us to believe.
*The Macrolepidoptera is a probably monophyletic (Minet, 1991) clade including not only the butterflies (Papilionoidea) and the related skippers (Hesperioidea), but also such familiar moth families as the Geometridae (inchworms), Sphingidae (sphinx moths), the diverse Noctuidae (owlet moths and others), among many.
‡That is, parasitoids only when immature.
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